By Catina Tanner
Catina is an American freelance writer living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
In “Kano: An American and His Harem”, director/co-producer Monster Jimenez tells the story of American Vietnam war veteran Victor Pearson (aka Kano, slang for American) who surrounded himself with a harem of Filipino women and wives and how it lead to a conviction of rape and 80 years in prison.
Kano’s story is like an onion and Jimenez peels it back layer-by-layer exposing the emotional, tearful core of the complicated Victor Pearson. The story even lingers like the aftertaste of an onion: no matter how hard you try, Kano’s story continues to hang around in your thoughts, it just won’t go away.
From the start of the documentary, the emotional weight of Kano’s story is almost too much to bear. Thankfully, Jimenez carefully spoon feeds each layer of Pearson’s life one emotionally digestible piece at a time. Throughout the production there is one socially unacceptable story after another. For example, how he had sex with a young teenage girl, who joined his group and he later married, and how she was pimped out to Kano by her mother. Yet, from an American viewpoint, the facts surrounding Kano’s harem and his wives were not surprising. This could be attributed to the mainstreaming of polygamy in American pop culture through the popularity of American TV shows like “Big Love,” and the reality series “Sister Wives,” both shows about a polygamist and his harems.
Jimenez’s profound way of telling Kano’s story allows for feeling sympathy for a man who is serving 80 years in prison for rape of an underage girl. In the beginning of the film, Kano seems like a large man with his contagious charisma and seemingly invincible character, bragging (from prison) that his life is one that “every heterosexual male dreams about it.’’ While diving deeper into his life, Kano’s character slowly shrinks into a tiny man almost child-like and vulnerable. Especially in prison, where he is dependent on his harem of women the same way a child depends on its mother, not only for the basic needs but also for love.
For those who have never visited the Philippines, the piece also gives a glimpse of the impoverished rural areas, in particular Kano’s Filipino home-province Negros Occidental. Throughout the documentary the backdrop showcases white pristine coasts and lush tropical gardens that totally contradict the ugly reality of poverty. It is an uneasy contradiction to watch as a foreigner living in a world where poverty is either non-existent or tucked away out of sight. Although this contradiction is disturbingly confrontational, one thing could be said about these Filipinos, they almost never stopped smiling.
Even though Jimenez was successful in showing the honest story of Kano’s life, she left out crucial details to his story, which she revealed in a question and answer session after the film’s world premiere during Amsterdam’s International documentary festival. For example, after serving in Vietnam, Pearson suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and if he had gone back to the US, he would have been sent to a mental health facility. Not knowing this fact generates an assumption that Kano has mental health issues and hearing later that he was suffering from PTSD retrospectively clears up unanswered questions.
Kano’s story could have been a documentary about a troubled man, who raped and took advantage of women, which it just isn’t. “Kano: An American and His Harem” is neither a film to be liked or disliked, nor is it a film to walk out of the theatre feeling good about the world in which we live. It’s a documentary that tells a story about a troubled child who grew up into a troubled man and did what he could to have the one thing in life we all want, love.