Gran Torino is a 2008 film set in a Detroit, Michigan suburb. Walt Kowalski, a retired American veteran and factory worker from Poland, lives in a community that has become dominated by Asian gangs. He is a loner in the community. His neighbor, tries to steal his antique Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. The veteran stops him and the other gang members by scaring them off with a rifle. As punishment, the gang member’s mother makes him work for Walt. The two form a relationship and Walt is introduced to the Hmong community. Walt defends the boy from the gang members and is killed in the process. In the end, Walt leaves his Gran Torino to the young gang member, and his house to the community, leaving his family who abandoned him nothing.
In Gran Torino, the biggest clues about Hmong culture occur during the first portion of the movie. The Shaman is doing a birth ceremony. The naming ceremony is for a three-day old baby. Three souls have been located. Three chickens are slaughtered amidst chanting and singing. Although the order and details of the ceremony are different, the Fadiman text also describes a soul catching ceremony after the birth of a baby (Fadiman, 9-11). The Shaman of the community is held in high regard, as Walt finds out when he discovers that it is an honor to be read by the shaman of the community. The Fadiman text also stresses the importance of the shaman in the community (Fadiman, 20).
Another Hmong cultural aspect in both the movie and the Fadiman book is the concept that being an unmarried woman is undesirable. In Gran Torino, the statement is made, “Being a second wife is better than having a woman be the head of the household. It’s not our way.” In the Fadiman book, being a woman of 35 and unmarried was unacceptable, as most young girls married at 15 or 16 years old (Fadiman, 114). At the barbecue, Walt sees a younger person give up their seat to an elder. The elders have a special place in Hmong culture, as mentioned in the birth ceremony text (Fadiman, 20). In Gran Torino, the Hmong face special challenges regarding being seen as outcasts and according to stereotypes. Language challenges make it difficult for them to integrate into American life, such as finding jobs, or getting an education, leaving them with few choices in life.
- Eastwood, Clint (2008). Gran Torino. Film. Warner Bros.
- Fadiman, A. (1997). A Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. New York: New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.