By Candice Russell
This week I’m writing about a film made in Haiti about a social problem affecting both Haiti and the United States. It represents another form of art from Haiti — the art of storytelling through pictures and words on the big screen.
Though I’m a big fan of documentary-style programs on TV networks and a reader of two daily newspapers, I was completely unaware of the issue it explores. It is a classic “fish out of water” story about displacement and it’s happening with alarming regularity all the time.
The film is “Deported,” a riveting documentary directed by Rachele Magloire and Chantal Regnault. It was shown in several South Florida counties in a four-day period, from Miami to Lake Worth. The venue where I saw it with my friends Margareth and Reynolds Rolles was the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, where a crowd packed the small room for the Saturday afternoon screening.
Men of all ages, many of whom don’t speak Kreyol or French, commit crimes of greater or lesser severity in the U.S. and they are sent back to Haiti. They often arrive without skills, money, or a single relative to whom they can turn for shelter or advice. No help is provided by the Haitian government to these newly arrived deportees, who are lucky to have even the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet.
Some adjust better than others. The most desperate are homeless and crazed, wandering the sidewalks of Port-au-Prince and depending on the kindness of strangers for a plate of spaghetti as a day’s meal.
Others find their niche, as rappers expressing their angst through spoken word, or as counselors to other deportees who arrive without hope. One man, who left behind a family of five children, is furious at the injustice of it all. He has started over with a new woman and a little girl, but the desperation he feels is palpable. Some even find paying jobs, which is the best outcome of all, because they are proud and self-supporting.
The film asks if deportation is a human rights issue. Hard-liners, of course, will see it as a proper administration of the law, but at what cost in splitting up families and returning men of Haitian heritage who have no ability to transition smoothly into Haitian society? After twenty years as a deportee in Haiti, one man stands on the roof of a building where he used to sleep at night and pronounces Haiti a prison from which there is no escape.
After the movie, co-director Rachele Magloire answered questions from the audience. I asked her how many Haitians had been deported from the U.S. to Haiti. She said there were no official records of the number, but guesstimated between, 7,000 and 10,000. That is a shocking number of men in Haiti who are more American than Haitian, considering where they grew up and what land they know.
The good news is that “Deported” exposes a problem that will get a harsh spotlight and some social action to solive it. Look for more movies with a Haitian focus by Haitian filmmakers. “Ayiti Images: A Florida Traveling Series” will bring more such films to the state. Follow the series on Facebook and Twitter. We need their voices.