“Letter from Masanjia” Documentary Review

September 17, 2018·
I received a private screener to view the “Letter from Masanjia” documentary early. All opinions are my own. View my full disclosure policy for more information.

The social justice documentary Letter from Masanjia has just begun its theatrical run in New York & LA. This is my review of this powerful documentary.

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Sun Yi holding the SOS letter he wrote, that made its way around the world and back to him.

I know I talk a lot about ethical fashion, purchasing with purpose, and brands that are doing good in the world. Yes, I talk about it a lot. Yes, sometimes I feel like a broken record. However, the reality is, until all are free, I won’t stop talking about it. Meaning that until no man, woman, or child is abused, forced, coerced, enslaved, etc. just to make the things we buy (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg), I’m going to continue to educate people as much as I can.

The issues of human rights and slave labor are not a bunch of “stories” that are portrayed in dramatic movies or sensationalized on the news. This is really happening. People are really being abused, tortured, taken away from their families, and more… JUST TO MAKE THE THINGS WE BUY. I don’t want to over dramatize this, but it really is something I am so passionate about.

I am constantly trying to further educate myself on these issues – both good and bad. While there are a lot of improvements that have been made in the manufacturing world, we still have a long, long way to go. Admittedly, one of the areas that I still did not know much about is the issue of Chinese labor camps where Chinese citizens are abused, tortured, imprisoned, etc. just because their beliefs differ from that of the Chinese government.

So when I heard about filmmaker Leon Lee’s new social justice documentary, Letter from Masanjia, I knew I wanted to see it and review it. 

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Director Leon Lee

Here is a little about Letter from Masanjia:

When a woman in Oregon discovers an SOS note stashed in a box of Halloween decorations from Kmart, she never imagines it will lead to the closure of China’s barbaric labour camp system. Her story goes viral, and the letter-writer, Sun Yi, a former Chinese prisoner who had been jailed for his spiritual beliefs, fears for his life and his family’s safety. Determined to continue exposing the injustice occurring in China, he decides to make a film to tell his story.

Letter from Masanjia offers a rare look inside China’s terrifying police state through the lens of a prisoner of conscience as he revisits his torturous past, and is hotly pursued by authorities. Following a true modern hero who won’t stop until he brings the truth to light, this nail-biting documentary reveals what happens when a few good citizens go up against a totalitarian regime.

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Director Leon Lee meets Sun Yi

Over the weekend, my husband and I sat down to view a private screener of this documentary. It’s an hour and 14 minutes long and every minute is gripping. It starts out with Julie Keith, a woman in Oregon who discovered an SOS note stashed behind a Halloween decoration she purchased for her daughter’s birthday party. This letter, written by a prisoner, Sun Yi, inside the Masanjia labor camp in China, detailed the horrors of his conditions, and the conditions of others, inside this prison.

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Sun Yi on the run in Beijing

Julie realizes she has to do something and after exploring a few avenues, she takes the letter to the press. The press ends up running with the story and it quickly goes viral, being picked up by every Western major news outlet. Sun Yi, now released from Masanjia labor camp, regularly breaks through the Chinese firewall to read western news. Suddenly, he sees a headline and sees an image of the letter he wrote. He realizes that his letter made it across the world and has been read and is now worldwide news. Suddenly, Sun Yi is fearful for his life.

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Sun Yi outside of Masanjia

Sun Yi has spent much of his adult life in Chinese labor camps due to his practice of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice that the communist regime in China feels is threatening to their ideology. It is extremely common in China for Christians, Muslims, and anyone who does not follow the Communist ideology, to be thrown in horrific labor camps and experience torture.

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Animated recreation of Sun Yi writing his letter from Masanjia

The documentary then follows Sun Yi’s experience essentially running from the Chinese government while simultaneously trying to expose the realities that many like him face. His family has been affected and his life has been forever changed – all because of his spiritual beliefs.

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Julie Keith and Sun Yi meet in person and she shows him his letter

Eventually, Sun Yi and Julie Keith are able to meet in person and share the impact they have each had on each other’s lives.

I don’t want to include any spoilers in this review because I really believe everyone needs to see this documentary. 

My thoughts on the film:

Letter from Masanjia was an absolutely incredible documentary. It was gripping, powerful, emotional, and convicting. I felt anxious… nervous every minute. I was immediately drawn in by Sun Yi’s story and his willingness to risk everything… literally EVERYTHING, in order to do what he felt was right and bring these human rights violations to light.

I will say, there are parts that are extremely difficult to watch. They are animated, but these scenes depict the unthinkable torture that Sun Yi experienced while imprisoned in Masanjia. So, this is not a documentary to watch with young, young children. I do think it would be okay to watch with teenagers or older kids who you can have an age-appropriate conversation with about these difficult, but important topics.

This documentary also made me think even more about the conditions that people may be working in China and around the world just so we here in America and other western countries are able to buy “cheap goods.” Is that cheap Halloween decoration really worth someone’s life? Is that cheap t-shirt really worth someone else being separated from their family? Is that cheap home decor really worth the abuse of a human being? Is it?

I always say, progress not perfection, when it comes to buying ethically. So don’t feel overwhelmed – just start small. Start with one thing and go from there… it really does make a difference.

If you are interested in seeing Letter from Masanjia: 

Parade Deck Films will open “Letter From Masanjia” theatrically in Los Angeles (ata Laemmle’s Playhouse 7) and New York (at Village East Cinema) beginning on September 14th, 2018 and will expand into additional markets in the following weeks.

You can also visit the official website and sign up for their newsletter so you can find out when a showing will be happening near you. I am also certain you will be able to view the documentary online at some point once theatrical releases have concluded.

There is also information on the website on how you can take action!

Here is the official trailer for Letter from Masanjia:

What about you? Will you see Letter from Masanjia?
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