Before Rachèle Magloire set out to document the lives of deportees on Haiti’s chaotic streets, the Haiti-born filmmaker, like many others, believed they were the culprits behind nearly every violent act that happened in the country.
“I had friends who had been kidnapped or killed, and would say, ‘It was a deportee who had done it,’” she said. “But after I met them, I realized it wasn’t true. We can’t stereotype. We have to give them a chance. There are a lot who don’t commit violent crimes.”
Magloire’s film, Deported, is both social commentary about the lives of deportees and criticism of the controversial 1996 U.S. anti-terrorism law that makes every immigrant with a criminal record eligible for deportation. By showing what reality is like for those returned to Haiti, a country that many left as babies or youngsters, the film paints a gloomy picture of a policy that does an injustice to those forced to return and the country forced to accept them.
“Haiti has to support all of these people,” said Magloire, the film’s co-director. “Culturally, they are Americans not Haitian; they don’t know anything about Haiti.”
The film makes its debut Wednesday at Florida International University’s South Campus, the first of four Haiti-themed films that will be screened in South Florida in the coming months as part of a traveling film series, “Ayiti Images.” The series’ goal, said creator and Miami-based filmmaker Rachelle Salnave, is to launch a wider conversation on the Haitian narrative.
“Ayiti Images was developed in the hopes of promoting Haitian filmmakers’ work about the Haitian experience and also providing quality, socially conscious films to Florida, one of the largest Haitian communities in the diaspora,” she said.
To help bring her film to life, Magloire sought out French photojournalist and longtime Haiti resident Chantal Regnault. In 1993, Regnault met Richard Miguel, the film’s main character, who back then was the deportee on Port-au-Prince’s Champ de Mars public square. Miguel had been deported to Haiti in 1988 on a commercial flight, long before the new policy.
But the real awakening about life for deportees in Haiti came during a visit to the prison, said Regnault, who shares the co-directing credit with Magloire.
“From across an empty yard, a group of young men clinging to the bars of an overcrowded cell called at me in English, ‘We are deportees from New York and the Haitian government is detaining us illegally,’” she said. “My heart jumped.”
By 1998, there were about 50 deportations a month, and by 2006 the stigmatization of deportees had reached the top of the government. As kidnappings surged, then-Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis called the United States and its deportation policy the main source of Haiti’s rising criminality.
“There is no data, there is no proof on which to base this,” Regnault said, acknowledging that while some do return to criminality, most do not.
The film has been screened in Canada, Europe and Haiti, where the country’s former secretary of state of public security, Reginald Delva, recently got authorities to agree that upon returning, deportees should be released unless other charges were pending in Haiti.
Filmmaker Magloire, who will be present Wednesday to answer questions about the film, said she hopes it opens people’s eyes.
“They want people to forget the fact that they are deportees. They want to be regarded as diaspora. But it’s truly not easy.”
The film’s seven characters are an interesting bunch. They talk of their struggle to navigate everything from the streets to the Creole language to Haitian reality.
“I wouldn’t do five days in jail here. Jail is not sweet down here,” Verlaine, a deportee, says in a telephone call with someone in the United States as he pleads for help to find money to eat.
“I can’t go out there and steal nothing because in Haiti, it’s weird. They kill you over here. They don’t send you to jail for stealing,” he said. “I can’t do anything wrong down here at all.”
Frantz, another one of the film’s characters, best sums up the effect of the stigma he’s had to endure.
“They see a bad man. They see a dangerous person, everybody says that. But the same person who is saying they see this danger in my eyes, they don’t know me,” he said. “Each human being is somebody’s child.”
If you go
Deported will be screened at five South Florida locations from Wednesday to Saturday.
▪ 7 p.m. Wednesday, Florida International University, Room GC140, South Campus. 11200 SW Eighth St. Free.
▪ 7 p.m. Thursday, University of Miami School of Communication, Shoma Hall, 5100 Brunson Dr., Coral Gables. Suggested donation $11 general public, $7 non-UM students, senior citizens.
▪ 7 p.m. Friday, Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59th Ter. General admission $11, $7 students/senior citizens.
▪ 2 p.m. Saturday, African American Research Library, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Free.
▪ 8 p.m. Saturday, Lake Worth Playhouse, 713 Lake Ave., Lake Worth. General admission $11, $7 students/senior citizens.