by Terri Bey
On December 12, 2021, I viewed "The Six" (2020) during the virtual Filmacracy Fest, which ran from December 9-12th. I went to the Festival's website and at 4:00 PM PST/7:00 PM EST, I went to the virtual room and watched the long-awaited documentary which was directed by Arthur Jones with James Cameron, Oscar-winning director for the 1997 classic "Titanic" as Executive Producer. "The Six" followed this six of a group of eight Chinese men who were aboard the ill-fated RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage and these six particular Chinese men who survived on that tragic night of April 15, 1912, when the great liner plunged beneath the waves at 2:20 AM after striking an iceberg on April 14th, the previous night at 11:40 PM. The viewer is shown that the Titanic disaster was not the only obstacle in the lives of these six survivors. The bigger obstacle was Chinese deportation laws and racial discrimination these men faced when trying to come into the United States and Canada.
Overall, I found "The Six" to be very well-done as far as telling the story the documentary makers wanted to tell. I, the Titanic enthusiast, found the parts about the legendary liner the most interesting. That is how I am wired. However, what I really liked was observing how the researchers, both Chinese and American, were going through names, and how they were attempting to connect evidence with the name. What I thought was a great addition to the documentary was the appearance of Tom Lynskey and Matt DeWinkler who were both working on the interactive game, "Titanic Honor and Glory" at the time the documentary was being made. The two men used their technology from the game and demonstrated through their game models how the Chinese men would have escaped from the ship.
What was also very interesting was how the researchers traveled to villages in China, and to cafes in Canada that one of "the Six," Lee Bing, might have owned, to see if there was any connection to the actual survivor. Two Canadian women did remember a male Chinese owner of a coffee shop talking about how his grandfather survived, but the researchers could not find him. The main Chinese survivor whom this documentary centered around was named Fang Lang, who, according to the documentary, had later changed his name to Wing Sun Fong. According to the documentary and using a deleted scene from "Titanic" (1997), the viewer is shown Fang Lang as possibly the last passenger being picked up by Fifth Officer Harold Lowe in Lifeboat 14. I was very moved by seeing the researchers meeting Tom Fong and looking at photos of his dad. Fong mentioned that his dad never spoke about the disaster. There is a great shot of Fong's grave which read's "Fong Wing Sun." Tom Fong is walking away in tears, crushed and disappointed that his father never shared his experience on the Titanic with him before he had died. That was heartbreaking.
The viewer learns about the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was enacted in 1882 and made permanent in 1902. As these six Chinese men did not have certificates of residence, they were put right back on a ship on dock 9, per the documentary, and had to be deported. It didn't matter that these poor men had undergone the worst maritime disaster in the North Atlantic at that time. They were Chinese and were unwelcome. According to the documentary, one of them didn't want to go back on a ship, but they had to leave and were sent to Havana. The viewer learns that Canada also had a similar rule, called the Chinese Immigration Act/Chinese Head Tax, where it stated if a person from China wanted to immigrate to Canada, they'd have to pay $50. The documentary also goes into much detail about the struggle and racial discrimination that the Chinese had to keep fighting to be accepted in the United States.
I also found this documentary to be very emotional. As a minority myself, I could totally understand the struggles that those men went through. Seeing old newspapers with racist comments about how the Chinese don't belong in the United States was heartbreaking. The final emotional impact for this viewer was when Tom Fong, the son of Wing Sun Fong, met John Lowe, grandson of Titanic Fifth Officer Harold Lowe at the Lowe Family Home in Deganwy, UK. I started crying my eyes out. Here was a Titanic survivor's son who is meeting the grandson of his father's rescuer. The two men speak and John Lowe, who has passed away in 2019, gave Tom Fong a framed photograph of his grandfather, Fifth Officer Lowe. Fong expresses his gratitude for himself and for his family, thanks to Mr. Lowe's "grandfather's humanity.
The only criticism I had was that I thought the documentary was a little slow at times when they were showing the viewers all the processes that they went through with research and all the traveling. Some of that could have been cut out. I also didn't understand this lifeboat experiment done that the documentary members were trying to disprove the claim that the Chinese men hid in the floors of the lifeboats to save themselves. The documentary makers had people in a mock lifeboat and ran some experiments and the experiments were supposed to prove that if the Chinese survivors were under their feet, they would have been felt. I thought that didn't sound right.
Regardless, I definitely recommend the documentary. It is very informative and emotional. I think Titanic enthusiasts will enjoy it. My favorite part of the entire documentary was when at the end of Tom Fong's visit with Fifth Officer Harold Lowe's grandson, John Lowe, Lowe told Fong how the "circle is complete." That touched my heart. The circle certainly was complete.
For all information about viewing "The Six," go to http://www.thesixdocumentary.com