From Finding Yingying (2020), dir. Jiayan Shi (image courtesy MTV Documentary Films)

In a landscape of prurient, exploitative true crime films and television, Finding Yingying stands out for the compassion and delicacy with which it handles its story. Director Jiayan Shi avoids leering at the details of the (quite upsetting) case, instead focusing on the victim and emphasizing the relationships she had in life, and how her family has been impacted by her death.

Yingying Zhang was a visiting scholar from China at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. In 2017, not long after her arrival, she was abducted and murdered. The story of the investigation into her disappearance is told mainly through the eyes of her loved ones — her parents, boyfriend, and more — all of whom traveled to the US to assist however they could. Seeing this case play out from their perspective, from the initial uncertainty to the discovery of the perpetrator through his trial and eventual sentencing, demonstrates different empathetic possibilities for true crime. Other filmmakers would do well to take note.

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Finding Yingying is available in virtual cinemas.

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Dan Schindel

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.