You may have thought the controversy surrounding Agent Orange, the deadly defoliant sprayed voluminously on Vietnam during the war, was more or less over. If so, you were wrong. Though a suit by Vietnam vets who were exposed was “settled” decades ago, with insufficient funds and coverage, diseases continue to ravage them and their descendants.
And, as viewers of The People vs. Agent Orange, Alan Adelson and Kate Taverna’s cogent, thorough, and moving documentary, now streaming (for $12) via the Cape Cinema, will learn, use of Agent Orange and its component herbicides have continued to this day — destroying wildlife and water resources, and sickening and killing people.
The filmmakers focus on two formidable heroines. The Vietnamese activist Tran To Nga, who was exposed to Agent Orange during the war and whose family has suffered birth defects and cancer, has circumvented the unresponsive U.S. courts by suing 26 American chemical manufacturers in France.
“A high court in Évry, just south of Paris, heard the final pleas last month,” Adelson tells the Independent. “On May 10, it will hand down its verdict.”
In the U.S., Adelson and Taverna follow the story of Carol Van Strum, who left city life to raise her children in the Oregon rain forest, only to find animals dying and ponds and rivers poisoned when areas of a national forest were defoliated with a component of Agent Orange. During her struggle, her children were killed in a suspicious fire that destroyed her home. Channeling her despair, Van Strum worked to pass local bans on the chemicals, but they have been overruled in court by logging interests.
“Carol is absolutely remarkable and lovable,” Adelson says. “She’s as militant now as she ever was. Madame Tran and Carol, who are close in age, nearing 80, both understand that they need to be public figures to do what they need to do.” —Howard Karren