i am rohingya: a genocide in four acts
October 19th, 2018 | Zahireen Tarefdar
lead organizers: venus wang, ADRIEN BLANCHARO
On October 9th, 2018, Hart House screened a viewing of “I am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts.”, a film capturing the journeys of fourteen refugee youth who use stage performance to reclaim their narratives. Accompanied by a perspective-shifting Q&A session with the director and cast after the screening, this event provided a uniquely human look, marked by both trauma and empowerment, into the one of the most devastating humanitarian cases of our time.
The film begins by introducing the director, Yusef Zine, and his interactions with several newly resettled Rohingya refugees living in Kitchener-Waterloo. The audience learns that Zine is helping the refugees, whose ages range from five to twenty, adjust to Canada. The youth come up with the idea to create a play about their journey as refugees, which Zine helps put into action.
The narrative structure of the film follows the youths’ journey of putting together the play, with crucial moments in their practices and performances being supplemented with documentary-style interviews, compelling landscape visuals, and news footage from Myanmar and Bangladesh. At the same time, the audience is allowed into the lives of the cast members, and are given intimate glimpses of their individual stories.
There are scenes which are simply heartbreaking, most palpable in the moments in which the youth and their parents describe or re-enact the violence they fled, the longing for their native homeland, and the desperation of statelessness and starting over in a new landscape.
But this is not a film fixated on victimhood, but also one which serves as a testament to human resilience, and the ability of art and performance to transform pain into determination and strength. In between the stage mishaps, line slip-ups and old-fashioned sibling rivalry, the stories of these young refugees also showcase the laughter and play present in their lives, despite all the hardships they continue to endure.
Towards the end of the film, there is also a sense of urgency with regards to the international response, or lack thereof rather, to the ongoing genocide and refugee crisis — especially after the cast finally delivers the debut performance of their play. As the end credits roll in, the audience comes to the realization that members of the cast have been sitting amongst them as they make their way down to the stage for the Q&A session.
The theme of the urgency of the situation further develops throughout the discussion. The moderator, Cheran Rudramoorthy, delivers an opening speech which pointedly addresses the inaction of “the so-called international community” in addressing and acknowledging the genocide. The questions which subsequently pour in from the audience are both personal and political- ranging from asking about how the youth cope with trauma and explain their identity to others, to more actionable questions about how to politically mobilize and hold governments accountable to their responsibility to intervene.
Ahmed Ullah, one of the key cast members featured in the film, takes the lead in responding to the audience. His responses are eloquent and impactful, carrying with them the weight of his lived experiences, and an emphasis on the ongoing reality of violence and displacement.
As the session wraps up, his final message is one which communicates the critical need for exposure and advocacy directly to the audience — he asks everyone present to try their hardest to ensure that what they’ve learned through this film actually leaves the room.