An eye-opening look into a country whose current affairs rarely gain recognition on the global stage, director Michele Stephenson’s Stateless follows the work and campaigning of young and passionate Dominican attorney Rosa Iris, who battles for the rights of undocumented legal citizens while building her own political bid for Congress. Acts of racial hatred from the Dominican government in 1937 led to the denaturalisation in 2013 of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, sparking an avalanche of social injustice and political disparity between the poorest and wealthiest in society. Fast forward to the present, and this is the battle that Rosa fights on others’ behalf.
Corruption is rife amongst government elites, and Iris’s story provides an exceptionally moving insight into the political and socioeconomic struggles faced in an area relatively unknown to the world. With the use of some fabulous cinematography, Stateless is a very high-quality and professional project, and although Stephenson tells the story in documentary format, it is presented as though it were a feature-length drama. Starring a real protagonist devastatingly passionate about what she believes, moved to despair by the unjust suffering of others, the film moves, making it impossible not to root for Rosa as she campaigns for what she believes to be right against a system that scrutinises so many.
Iris’s run for political office presents an alternative dynamic to the story. Rather than having people believe in her abilities like they do when she is at work, she must instead make her public trust that she has the power to bring change to their lives. Throughout the documentary, the dangers she faces are very real, with threats to her and her children becoming a daily occurrence as she challenges those deemed superior, undeniably becoming an even greater heroine in the process. This combination of wonderful storytelling from the director and a fierce, supportable protagonist make Stateless a remarkable watch from start to finish, displaying the brilliance of Iris’s work and teaching a history lesson as it goes.
At Tribeca this year, Stateless falls into the Viewpoint category, and as a whole, is certainly not to be missed this year. But it asks more of the viewer than to simply watch and enjoy. There is a burning realism woven into every shot of the 97-minute film and what needs to be taken away is that the very real struggle of thousands in Haiti continues, even as the end credits roll.
Stateless (Apátrida) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Tribeca Film Festival 2020 coverage here.