[Image: Photo of Shig Murao at the Howl trial, seated behind the defendant’s table in a black suit, with his hand over his mouth.]
Howl (2010) told the story of San Francisco’s Six Gallery and the 1957 obscenity trial against Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl. In 1957, Shigeyoshi Murao, the Japanese American manager of the City Lights Bookstore, was dragged off to jail for selling Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems.
“Imagine being arrested for selling poetry!” Murao, a lifelong friend of Ginsberg, would later reflect. Murao was bailed out by the ACLU and removed as a defendant in the obscenity trial after the prosecution could not prove he knew what was in the book he was selling.
According to the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, although much of the publicity surrounding the Howl trial was focused on storeowner Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Murao committed the actual controversial act of selling the so-called “obscene book”. As a result, Murao, whose family had been interned during World War II, was the one who served the jail time. “To me, he was the real hero of this tale of sound and fury, signifying everything,” Ferlinghetti wrote in later years.
Given Murao’s important role in the history and story of Howl, he is conspicuously absent in the 2010 film. Patricia Wakida of the Japanese American National Museum unsuccessfully tried to contact the producers to ensure Shig Murao would be included in the film. As depicted on its official website,Howl (2010) had an all-white lead cast and the only defendant depicted in the film is Ferlinghetti. The Asian American man who served time in jail for this historic case? Invisible. Erased from the story.