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INDEPENDENT LENS: The People Vs. Agent Orange

Tran To Nga marches with Agent Orange victims, families and supporters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Courtesy of Scott Sinkler
Tran To Nga marches with Agent Orange victims, families and supporters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Stream or tune in Monday, June 28, 2021 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Through Personal Stories, Investigative Documents and Revelatory Interviews, “The People Vs. Agent Orange” Exposes the Fight to Hold the Chemical Industry Accountable for the Lasting Devastation Caused by the Toxins Associated with the Infamous Herbicide Agent Orange

Nearly 60 years following the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War — the deadliest use of chemicals in the history of warfare — toxins associated with the war-time herbicides continue to cause illness, death and deformities in Vietnam and at home in America where the chemicals were used by the U.S. Forest Service as well as the commercial timber industry.

From filmmakers Alan Adelson and Kate Taverna, “The People vs. Agent Orange” closely follows two women activists as they take on the chemical industry and demand accountability for the devastating legacy caused by the use of this poisonous herbicide.

The People vs Agent Orange | Official Trailer

Through the stories of two primary protagonists, French-Vietnamese author Tran To Nga and American activist Carol Van Strum, the film explores the pair's crusades as they struggle to hold the chemical manufacturers accountable for the ongoing, intergenerational Agent Orange catastrophe.

Author and Environmentalist, Carol Van Strum, shows her book, "A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights"[2014], outside her home in Ore.
Courtesy of Ken Gagne
Author and Environmentalist, Carol Van Strum, shows her book, "A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights"[2014], outside her home in Ore.

These personal accounts, alongside investigative documents and rare interviews with experts, scientists, and government officials, expose the staggering role our government and private industry played in obfuscating the chilling aftereffects of dangerous herbicides used at home and abroad.

Decades of death, deformity, and disability are the result of more than 20 million gallons of toxic herbicides used in Vietnam by the American military between 1962 and 1971. Tran To Nga has spent seven years building a legal case against the American chemical industry for poisoning her family.

Tran To Nga sits with victims of Agent Orange at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Courtesy of Hoang Nguyen
Tran To Nga sits with victims of Agent Orange at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

In Oregon, Carol Van Strum fights intimidation and threats by timber interests as she brings to light damning corporate documentation of the deadly impacts of the chemical mixture used in her community, including Agent Orange component 2,4-D.

In this gripping documentary, Adelson and Taverna weave together the experiences of two women from countries nearly halfway around the world, each fighting passionately for a common cause.

“The People vs. Agent Orange” presents groundbreaking commentary from noted officials including former Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle and retired United States Air Force scientist James Clary who break decades of silence to reveal long-held secrets.

A helicopter spraying herbicide in Ore.
Courtesy of Sue Norris
A helicopter spraying herbicide in Ore.

Filmmaker Quotes:

“The intergenerational human damage caused by the use of Agent Orange is staggering, both in Vietnam and also here in America. It was the first instance of what we now call ecocide. How and why it happened is an important lesson for humanity,” said Adelson. “There has never been a full accounting of the chemical’s use by its creators, and those who profited from it” continues Taverna. “With this film, we want to fight the silence and the obfuscation of those companies, shining a light on fearless activists like Tran and Van Strum who have been fighting this battle for decades.”

A recipient of the Organization of American Historians’ 2021 Erik Barnouw Award, “The People vs. Agent Orange” takes viewers through painstaking investigative research and interviews with whistleblowers, researchers, doctors and the people who have lived through contact with the poison in both Vietnam and the United States.

Carol Van Strum with her rescue donkeys and horse at her home in Ore.
Courtesy of Ken Gagne
Carol Van Strum with her rescue donkeys and horse at her home in Ore.

Watch On Your Schedule:

This episode will be available simultaneously with the broadcast on the INDEPENDENT LENS website, PBS.org and the PBS Video App.

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Credits:

Directors / Producers: Alan Adelson and Kate Taverna. Producer: Véronique Bernard. Editor: Kate Taverna. Executive Producers: Sally Jo Fifer, Lois Vossen, Maxyne Franklin, Abigail E. Disney and Gini Reticker.