Filmmaker seeks to educate about L.A.’s racist past

PUSHING FOR CHANGE ­— With “Putting Them Where They Could Do No Harm,” filmmaker Steve Nagano seeks to rename Fletcher Bowron Square. photo courtesy of Steve Nagano

Former educator and “Putting Them Where They Could Do No Harm” filmmaker Steve Nagano seeks to rename Fletcher Bowron Square, which is named after the former Los Angeles mayor who supported the wartime incarceration of persons of Japanese decent in U.S. concentration camps.

The Nichi Bei Weekly interviewed Nagano via e-mail about his short film and then-Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron’s role in the mass incarceration of persons of Japanese descent, ahead of the film’s screening during the 11th annual Films of Remembrance Sunday, Feb. 27 at 11 a.m., followed by a discussion. The interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

Nichi Bei Weekly: Since the film was produced out of the Visual Communications’ Digital Histories program, what encouraged you to participate in the program and what is your original background?
Steve Nagano: I am a retired teacher having taught English, science and history, and operated a computer center on the secondary level for over 30 years. Consequently, as a teacher I always considered ways to best share knowledge and information, thus filmmaking and having be(en) involved with Visual Communications for decades and a senior, it made sense to be a part of Digital Histories, VC’s program for seniors.

NBW: What inspired you to produce “Putting Them Where They Could Do No Harm?”
SN: Years of people correcting history and presenting history from another point of view…, the perspective of the victim(s) inspired me. I was given a Los Angeles Times frontpage article from the ‘40s in which the mayor of Los Angeles, Fletcher Bowron, expressed his desire not to have Japanese and Japanese Americans (37,000) return to Los Angeles after incarceration. Along with the uptick in renaming sites brought about by the Black Lives Matter uprisings during 202(0), I was inspired not only to make the film, but to seek a way to change the name of the square named for a person who spewed racist venom against Japanese in Los Angeles…

NBW: How did you determine which testimonies to use?
SN: I have been involved with the Los Angeles CWRIC (Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians) hearings having summarized and indexed them and wanted to show the consequences of Bowron’s words from the testimonies of the incarcerees.

NBW: How many people today know of Mayor Bowron’s antipathy toward Japanese Americans?
SN: Surprisingly one consistent comment I have received is, “I did not know.” I too, didn’t know until recent years, so I imagine that very few, particularly the post-war and younger generation, do know of Bowron and even fewer non-Japanese Americans.

NBW: Did you intentionally go from flashback to current events throughout the film?
SN: Yes, as the question of have we become a less racist society today is debated (not debatable in some circles, we are more racist) and connecting today’s issues with those of the past to give us an understanding that this is…a long and ongoing process that people of color in America have endured.

NBW: How can people today be inspired by change after they watch your film?
SN: At the least I hope people are inspired to sign the petition on MoveOn, write a letter to the Mayor of Los Angeles, and to share the film and petition with other justice-minded persons. But more so to become aware of how racism is endemic in American society, in themselves and to learn and stand up for what is right and just.

To sign the petition, visit:

“Putting Them Where They Could Do No Harm” will screen as part of the “Righting Civil Wrongs” shorts program at the 11th annual Films of Remembrance Sunday, Feb. 27 at 11 a.m. PT, followed by a discussion at noon. The “Righting Civil Wrongs” shorts program is $15. An all-access pass is $50. For more information, visit

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