“Fly in Power” Ably Documents the Work of Red Canary Song

by Brian Hioe

Film Poster

This is a No Man is an Island film review written in collaboration with Cinema Escapist as part of coverage of the 2023 New York Asian Film Festival. Keep an eye out for more!

FLY IN POWER documents the work of Red Canary Song, the coalition of Asian and Migrant sex workers and massage workers formed after the death of Yang Song during a police raid in Flushing in 2017. The documentary takes a ground-level look at not only what Red Canary Song does, but also the perspectives of members as to how they understand their work, why they joined, and their backgrounds.

The film manages to provide a revealing glimpse of Red Canary Song, then, even if it is also self-apparent that only part of the overall organization is documented. For one, the film is careful to avoid depicting those who do not wish to have their faces filmed on camera, and the documentary makes it evident that only a glimpse of the overall organization is depicted–though the perspective taken hews close to the organization’s self-understanding.

For the most part, Fly in Power avoids any specific narrative. Instead, Red Canary Song members are shown involved in various activities, such as mutual aid efforts, community gatherings, and policy advocacy work. From this, one is able to understand the relatively recent history of the organization, particularly with regard to how the organization further developed in responding to the wave of hate against Asians–particularly Asian women–that one has seen in past years. This is linked with the rise of far-right-wing views during the presidency of Donald Trump, such as the justification of raids by Ivanka Trump as part of a fight against human trafficking.

Consequently, one is able to see how Red Canary Song arrives at its viewpoints from a left-wing perspective. This includes linking the violence against massage workers and sex workers to US militarism on and around bases, as well as how capitalist exploitation dovetails with racialized violence against migrants in police seizures of cash assets during raids. This shows well how police themselves embody racist views against migrants and carry out acts of violence. Fly in Power, in this light, seeks to highlight the agency of sex and massage workers. Red Canary Song is shown to reject savior narratives that are understood as, in fact, justifying such violence or otherwise.

The documentary is at its strongest showing interviews with various members of Red Canary Song, or detailing their activities. The use of news clips and archival footage is used to contextualize these interviews, or even highlight how members of Red Canary Song felt on a subjective level about their experiences.

Some may find the documentary to be somewhat unstructured, seeing as it provides a look at the lives of Red Canary Song members, but there is no clear beginning, middle, or end–again, the documentary is not based around a specific narrative frame. Nevertheless, this also has its advantages, in that it provides a holistic look at Red Canary Song.

Fly in Power does what it sets out to do, in depicting Red Canary Song, its work, and its outlook. Though there is not a specific focus on any member of Red Canary Song either, the documentary serves to collectively depict the organization, and it does this capably.