Piece Comment

Review of Tsim Txom: Domestic Violence in Hmong Society

The main character in this Wisconsin Public Radio documentary is a Hmong woman in a bad marriage. She marries young (age 13), her family doesn't teach her how to cook and her new husband beats her. "They told me to cook a certain meal and I didn't know how so they said, 'How come I'm such a stupid wife. That I was useless.'" In the Hmong language, Tsim Txom means suffering. There's plenty of that in this in-depth documentary produced by Brian Bull. It's a well-reported piece, but it doesn't have the emotional impact one might expect with such a topic. The problem is partly one of style. The storytelling is traditional. The voice of the subject is heard complaining about her husband (who she ultimately leaves) and then we hear the reporter's voice. This might have been more moving if the subject narrated the story (such as in several David Isay and Dan Collison/Elizabeth Meister documentaries) or the reporter created richer scenes, perhaps by leaving in his questions or interactions with the subject. Another idea might be to use music to serve as a bridge between the subject's recollections. Of course, it's incredibly difficult to do all this and share information with the listener about Hmong culture and domestic violence. The quality of reporting on these subjects make this a documentary worth licensing.