Resistance brews among the Indian immigrants who were stripped of their dignity when a reputed shipyard in Texas conscripted them as guest workers to repair the oil rigs and ships damaged after Hurricane Katrina.
This film stems from my fieldwork among immigrant workers in the coastal areas of Texas and rural parts of New Jersey. As an immigrant, I empathize with the Indian workers’ hopes and disappointments. I was heartbroken when I first read about what had happened to the workers. I wanted to make a film not about what had happened but about what could have happened if those workers had a tool like “camcorder” at their disposal — to document what was happening to them by recording their testimonies. These testimonies shown in the film through a camcorder are actual lines written by the real shipyard workers who were exploited. This is the truth we are bringing to our fiction. It is a fictional re-imagination of their resistance. Even if this incident occurred in 2007, it is still relevant today. In 2021, an New York Times article broke out, which said a Hindu Temple in New Jersey had trafficked Dalit workers from India, subjected them to back-breaking labor, and paid them as little as $1 per hour. The labor exploitation of these guest-worker programs sadly continues even today — look at what’s happening in Qatar right now with the recent world cup. Any human should be able to live with some basic unit of dignity. And when this dignity is taken away, that is when resistance should happen. Retaliation should happen. Voices should rise. The main themes of my film are “dignity” and “justice.” This builds nicely from the previous installment of Kinostreet, “Testimony of Ana,” which also deals with the themes of dignity and justice. The digital narrative format allows me to maintain anonymity and document the workers’ stories with more integrity. To play the lead in this film, I needed someone who has undergone similar real-life exploitation. I am pleased to have worked with the lead actor, Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a Sri Lankan civil war refugee in France who has starred in the 2015 Palme d’Or winner “Dheepan.” Most of my key crew are immigrants of color, and they are the same creatives who helped me in my previous work. I envision this project sparking a dialogue about immigrant rights and labor exploitation in the USA and worldwide.