Director Michèle Stephenson’s new documentary Stateless uncovers the complex history and present-day politics of Haiti and the Dominican Republic through the grassroots electoral campaign of a young attorney named Rosa Iris. The documentary will world premiere at the down-sized 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.
In 1937, tens of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent were exterminated by the Dominican army, based on anti-black hatred fomented by the Dominican government. Fast-forward to 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court stripped the citizenship of anyone with Haitian parents, retroactive to 1929. The ruling rendered more than 200,000 people stateless, without nationality, identity or a homeland. In this dangerous climate, a young attorney named Rosa Iris mounts a grassroots campaign, challenging electoral corruption and advocating for social justice. Director Michèle Stephenson’s new documentary Stateless traces the complex tributaries of history and present-day politics, as state-sanctioned racism seeps into mundane offices, living room meetings, and street protests.
Filmed with a chiaroscuro effect and richly imbued with elements of magical realism, Stateless combines gritty hidden-camera footage with the legend of a young woman fleeing brutal violence to flip the narrative axis, revealing the depths of institutionalized oppression.
“As a child, growing up in a Haitian and Latinx household and diaspora communities in North America, I continued to overhear stories about the history of my birthplace relating to race, color, class, colonialism and human rights. Those observations formed the basis of how I made sense of the world that surrounded me, especially as those notions collided with the racism, segregation and discrimination that we faced in our adopted countries. Those experiences fueled my passion to dig deeper into the consequences of our deeply painful common history of slavery and colonialism and how we continue to internalize such self-hatred.
Stateless in some ways is a culmination of years of working through storytelling approaches that allowed me to land back home and use a creative way to unearth and express that childhood pain.
As a hyphenated black Latina, I felt compelled to express how deeply embedded the racial caste system is in our Latinx communities and how identity and citizenship are so closely connected to anti-blackness—and yet its discussion either escapes or is superficially misconstrued by mainstream media.
Stateless highlights universal themes of access to citizenship, migration and systemic racism. In the U.S., we are witnessing the chipping away at immigrants’ and citizens’ rights. We are facing a global crisis of white supremacist manipulation of migrants’ rights, birthright citizenship, and human dignity for black and brown people.
My objective is to connect the film to a network of committed partners in the Caribbean region, Latin America, the U.S., and internationally, to utilize the film as a platform for their work on protecting the rights of migrants, and citizens, and to deepen people’s understanding of the intersection between anti-black racism, migration, and citizenship rights.” – Michèle Stephenson, Director/Producer
Director Michèle Stephenson, co-founder of the Rada Film Group, pulls from her Panamanian and Haitian roots and experience as a human rights attorney to tell provocative stories that speak to personal and systemic liberation. Her films have been nominated for three Emmys. Her collaborative series with The New York Times Op-Docs, “A Conversation on Race”, won the 2016 Online Journalism Award for Commentary. She was recently awarded the Creative Capital Fellowship and the Chicken & Egg Pictures Breakthrough Filmmaker Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her current projects include two nonfiction features, a series, and a virtual reality time travel collaboration.