Three Tours is a documentary created by Betty Yu, a multimedia artist, filmmaker, educator and activist. Born and raised in New York City to Chinese immigrant parents, Yu is a socially engaged justice-minded artist who integrates community into her work. She made Three Tours, the award-winning documentary that captures the lives of three U.S. Military veterans working to heal their wounds and battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Nicole Goodwin, Ramon Mejia and Ryan Holleran were all deployed in Iraq.
Yu’s work is directly influenced by her experiences as a daughter raised by garment worker parents. Her parents arrived from Hong Kong over 40 years ago and toiled away in sweatshops. Her upbringing, undoubtedly colors her work. She has explored issues of labor rights, immigrant justice, gender equity and militarism.
Yu’s involvement in community activism has given her access to personal narratives and a platform to amplify those voices. “It’s important to preserve the integrity and respect of people’s experiences and stories, therefore, it’s vital that my subjects feel a part of the process,” she says. Her purpose with Three Tours is to provoke audiences to think about themselves as agents of change. The film documents three veterans from traditionally marginalized communities: LGBT, anti-war veterans, Womxnof Color, People of Color, survivors of violence, immigrants and others who stood up, organized and fought for their rights. It’s important to Yu that her work depict the collective power people possess to squarely challenge injustices.
Three Tours exposes the invisible war of PTSD and the transformation from U.S. soldiers to agents of change advocating for appropriate mental health treatment for veterans and putting an end to unjust wars. The veterans depicted use writing as a tool for telling their stories, while sharing and teaching others. They don’t want their community to feel alone on their personal battlefields, whether suffering PTSD, engaging anti-war activism, navigating sexuality or the classroom.
PTSD creates invisible wounds many veterans face alone, yet the disorder impacts individuals, families and society as a whole. Veterans come home from war and have to deal with the impact of what they did during wartime, which might be criminal in civil society. For veterans who become politicized during their deployment, this impact of trauma is greater. Three Tours creatively shows the sacrifices and costs of war. Audiences experience the emotional, spiritual, physical and mental implications of unjust warring through the lens of the three veterans.
As the film’s main characters seek out help and work to re-shape their lives as civilians, their focus shifts. During their deployment, interacting with children, community members, Iraqi soldiers and those in institutional power, the vets started questioning Democracy earned at the end of a gun. They begin questioning militarism as a whole and unpacking what social justice really means.
Watching Three Tours left me with the following questions:
How does society deal with an influx of returning veterans, many possibly suffering from PTSD?
How is society creating welcoming spaces for veterans with PTSD?
What are some healing rituals and mental health supports that can bolster returning veterans suffering trauma?
Audiences can view an excerpt of the film online.
 The term "womxn" is intentionally used by many academics and activists to represent the complexities of gender, removing the framework of gender expression from patriarchy (and the default assumption that unspecified people are men).