Speaking for Ourselves

WeRNotVirus: A creative response to a rise in hate crime

WeRNotVirus: A creative response to a rise in hate crime

Daniel Nelson

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - WeRNotVirus: A creative response to a rise in hate crime

When a friend of Jennifer Lim was punched in the eye in a London street because she was ethnically Chinese, Lim decided to act. Luckily, acting is her business.

“I thought it was time to respond urgently and creatively,” says the Singaporean-born actor and filmmaker who has lived in Britain for 20 years.

The punch was not a solitary incident. She and co-producer Daniel York Loh cite reports of a 21% rise in hate crimes against east and southeast Asian communities since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While she was performing in a London show about Hong Kong in March two members of the troupe were harassed on the way to a performance. 

Lim herself has been the subject of comments in the street, such as the time when an approaching child said to another, “Oh, she’s Chinese, let’s put our masks on.”

She blames “the hostile environment fostered by the Conservative Party, and Brexit policies, emboldened by the Alt Right… exacerbated by Donald Trump”, which she says have given carte blanche to outwardly hostile behaviour: “The veneer of tolerance is no longer there.

“I feel it’s a serious matter that’s not been given enough attention in the media.”

The creative response – an evening of short plays called WeRNotVirus – will hit Zoom screens on 13-14 June, thanks to a rapidly agreed grant from the Arts Council’s emergency Covid-19 response.

Lim and Loh commissioned 10 writers of Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean heritage, including some of mixed heritage, and five works will be presented on each of the two nights. Film and dance are featured, as well as prose and poetry.

In addition, British-Nigerian playwright Oladipo Agboluaje has contributed a piece about the experiences of Africans in China, where many have experienced racism as a result of the pandemic.

Both shows will be followed by panel discussions: Saturday, on the lack of British east Asian voices in the media, and Sunday, how to build solidarity between communities in response to Covid-19.

“There’s a real energy to what is a unique digital event,” says Lim. The quickly assembled talent, she adds, also disproves the old chestnut that east Asian writers and artists don’t exist in Britain.

Twitter: @Wernotvirus 


Update (25 June 2020): WeRNotVirus performances are available on Omnibus Theatre's YouTube channel until 1 July (click here to see Saturday's show, click here for Sunday's show).



TOP IMAGE: Daniel York Loh (credit: Sebastian Nevols); Jennifer Lim (credit: Matt Anker).