“There is so much right about this film– it reveals what’s wrong with the system, what’s right about the human heart, what’s enduring about the spirit, what’s unjust and cruel and barbaric about our prison system and the film explores the music of endurance in a way that makes Eddy’s journey epic…” – Jimmy Santiago Baca, writer and poet
“Arrested at 16 and tried as an adult for kidnapping and robbery, Eddy Zheng served over 20 years in state prison. Ben Wang’s BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY paints an intimate portrait of Eddy — the prisoner, the immigrant, the son, the activist — on his journey to freedom, rehabilitation and redemption. BREATHIN’ moves with a deep, critical love, unafraid in confronting the hard truths of Eddy’s crime, the harsh realities of mass incarceration and the intertwined emotional hardships experienced by all involved. The film finds Eddy at many crossroads — in and out of parole hearings, organizing in the community, othered and at risk of deportation — his resilience and astounding compassion resounding throughout. In chronicling Eddy’s decades-long struggle for freedom, the film interrogates the complexities and hypocrisies of crime and punishment in the United States, raising the greater question: For whom are prisons for?” – Andrew Yeung, Center for Asian American Media
“We are compelled to give an Honorable Mention award to Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story, directed by Ben Wang, for its celebration of Eddy Zheng’s resilience, strength, and transformation while exposing deep flaws in our criminal justice and immigration systems. An honest portrait of a man struggling to reconcile his past criminal actions with the role model and community activist he has become, the film deftly interweaves the story of Eddy’s journey from prison with humor and pathos making it evident that his is a story that needs to be shared.” – CAAM Documentary Competition Jury
“To be an individual, to become yourself, is to inspire and be inspired. BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY (Winner of the Documentary Feature Audience Award as well as the Honorable Mention Documentary Jury Award) offered us inspiration for a lifetime, no pun intended. Eddy changed and grew profoundly, but the film did not leave out the trauma of the victims of the crime he committed at age 16. Through an intermediary, and through film, they perhaps came a little closer, to forgiveness and peace.” – Ravi Chandra, originally posted on CAAMFest Blog
Colorlines Review: View original artwork with review here
For both of us, this was our favorite film of the festival. At age 16, fewer than four years after arriving in the U.S. from China, Eddy Zheng and three friends used guns to break into the home of a neighborhood shop-owner, locking his children in a bathroom and eventually ripping her clothes off. The film wastes no time in showing Zheng, now in his 40s, sitting on his childhood bed, revisiting his court testimony for the first time since speaking it. The acts he describes are unforgivable.
And it’s this baseline, this full disclosure, that lets us see every inch that Zheng has built back up: being tried as an adult with court-assigned defense, entering prison with limited English skills, discovering the prison library, spending 11 months in solitary confinement for circulating a petition for an ethnic-studies curriculum. And then, after 19 years and 12 rejected parole requests, he gets out—and goes immediately into an immigration detention facility, because his visa has expired and the law has changed. And through it all, he fights for the right of all people to learn their histories.
BREATHIN’ could have settled for “inspirational”: guy goes to jail, turns his life around, cue credits. Instead, it holds all players accountable, for everything. We hear Zheng’s mother admit to claiming that he was off at college instead of serving time in prison. We see her refuse to apologize for not asking her father to pay for an attorney. We see his sister say that they thought jail “might be good for him.” And we spend time with the voice of victims: One of the shop-owner’s children lays out every reason to keep him in prison forever, to deport him, to “let him make a new life anywhere but here.”
We also see Zheng open his heart for rooms full of men both before and after getting his freedom. We watch him works a bullhorn at rallies, demanding Asian solidarity with the African-American community. We see his girlfriend teasingly objectify his biceps. We get to see Zheng be funny, loving, distant, terrifying, and scared. We see him be a son and a father. As Zheng’s former cell mate asks, “If Eddy isn’t reformed, who is?” And this is a movie about how reformation is not an erasure of the past. Eddy Zheng, as rendered on screen by director Ben Wang and a decade’s worth of filming, may be the most fully human Asian man on a U.S. movie screen in recent memory.
Postscript: during the movie, we both wondered who was letting their toddler wander around the theater. But we both figured it out when she trundled up to Zheng’s giant face on the screen and yelled “Daddy!”
– Written by Channing Kennedy. Illustrated by Minnie Phan. Originally posted on Colorlines
“Attending the premiere of ‘Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story’ at CAAMFest 2016 on the evening of March 11th was truly inspirational and moving…Using effective storytelling and interviews with family and friends of Zheng, as well as footage of his highly publicized work with the Asian American community—nonviolently fighting for civil rights and mentoring troubled youth—Wang is able to humanize the subject of his film. The audience sees Zheng for the positive person he has grown to be and as someone who understands the ramifications of the crime he committed at a younger age. Further, the viewer comes to understand the suffering that all convicted criminals and prisoners face. Wang highlights Zheng’s transformation from troubled youth to deeply caring, intelligent and determined individual who fights, not only for himself, but also the community that continually embraces him. Released from prison, Zheng explains: ‘My story is not just about me. It is about the narratives of many “Others” that do not have a voice to articulate the detrimental impact of the migration to the school-to prison-and-deportation pipeline.’ Eddy Zheng, who following his release from jail was threatened with deportation for his criminal record, was recently pardoned by Governor Brown.” – Cindy Maram, Dig In Magazine, originally posted on the Dig In Mag, also with great photos.
“BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY is the kind of film that keeps you ruminating long after you watch it. As an avowed feminist and women’s and immigrant rights advocate, it challenges you to think about what does justice look like within a rigged system. This story will change the narrative of Asian Americans and will greatly impact the national movement to end mass incarceration.” – Cynthia Choi
“The film is about conflict.
The film is about challenge.
The film is about self-realization.
The film is about the power of choices.
And, most importantly, the film is about hope.
Hope not only for Eddy, but hope for each of us.
And, especially hope for the most vulnerable: The men and women snared in the web of the penal systems.” – Frank Brown
“BREATHIN’ brought out to me the possibilities of positive transformation for the individual and for the community despite adversity and systemic abuse. Eddy Zheng’s triumph is ours.” – Harvey Dong
“Go see BREATHIN’ if you’ve ever needed a lesson on how to speak from your heart without words.” – Shoshana Arai
“Ben Wang’s film, BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY, is a powerful telling of a difficult life. It is unusually nuanced with attention to the facets of crime and punishment. I highly recommend this film and hope that all who are involved with the criminal justice system see this as well as anyone who is interested in the amazing capacity of individuals to grow and change.” – J. Nakashima