Fly in Power

Award-winning documentary (i)Fly in Power(i) tells the story of Charlotte, a Korean massage worker and core organizer of Red Canary Song, a collective of Asian diasporic massage workers, sex workers, and allies.

FLY IN POWER

Directed by Yin Q and Yoon Grace Ra

2023

77 min

 

REVIEW BY CID V BRUNET

 

 

 

 

Fly In Power focuses on the core organizers of Red Canary Song (RCS), an abolitionist social justice collective in the neighbourhood of Flushing in New York City. The collective is made up of Asian migrant massage and sex workers and their allies. The group was founded in 2018 in response to the death of Yang Song, a massage worker who fell four stories to her death during a police raid on her workplace.

 

Fly In Power won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Los Angeles Asian and Pacific Islander Film Festival in 2023. The film follows Charlotte, a Korean massage worker and poet who was arrested nine times over 20 years, KhoKhoi, a young bodyworker/healer, and professor Elena Shih, a human trafficking researcher. The directors, who also have some screen time, point out that theirs is the first film to have an Asian massage worker tell their own story, while also having agency in the editing process.

 

 

 

 

A particularly affecting scene shows footage from a protest/vigil on the anniversary of Song’s death. Altars and food offerings are set up as workers speak out against unfair and precarious labour conditions. While incense burns and ceremonial drums and gongs play, the names of the eight people who died in the Atlanta spa shootings in 2021 are read aloud: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng. 

 

The scene reminded me of Ashley Noelle Arzaga—who was murdered in 2020 by a teenage incel while working as a receptionist at a massage spa in Toronto—and Sisi Thibert, a transgender sex worker killed in Montreal in 2017. Targeting sex workers does not stop at the border. Like RCS in New York, Canada has a number of grassroots organizations that work towards equality and justice for sex workers, such as Butterfly: Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network

 

 

 

 

Fly In Power uses interviews, news media clips, and archival memories from RCS’s history of lobbying and protesting to weave a definitive argument that radical change is needed to protect massage and sex workers. RCS members use mutual aid and community care to fight back against targeted police violence and criminalization, while combating false narratives about sex trafficking. 

 

The film’s visuals continually return to the nourishing process of making food, as kimchi and other big meals are prepared collectively and distributed through outreach teams to take care of their community. This overarching theme is especially potent in one scene, where, on a retreat outside the city, rivers and pools hold organizers afloat so they can take a moment’s rest. Around a campfire, Charlotte talks about how she’d love to plant a persimmon tree. “If there’s something delicious, we share it,” she says.

 

 

 

 

Viewers uninterested in the how-tos of organizing might find the meeting scenes where policy is discussed a bit dry. However, if you’ve ever questioned sex-trafficking narratives, or are interested in decriminalization, this documentary offers articulate answers from people with lived experience that go beyond, “rights not raids,” “resources not rescue,” and “sex work is work.”

 

 

“rights not raids,” “resources not rescue,” and “sex work is work.”

 

 

Fly In Power’s juxtaposition of intimate moments with difficult political realities underscores the urgency of the issues Red Canary Song members have risked their safety to highlight. This film was created by women, non-binary, trans, and queer people of the Asian diaspora with more than half the production team made up of current or former sex workers. With incredible vulnerability and bravery, this film captures the incredible strength of Asian massage workers and sex workers surviving and thriving, while fighting for collective justice. 

 

 


 

 

Cid V Brunet’s debut memoir, This Is My Real Name, was published in 2021. Since then, they’ve been working on an MFA at UBC.