Three Reasons Why I am Not Watching the “Stateless” Series, and Why You Ought To
By Nikolai Levasov, a founding member of United Stateless
As one of the founding members of United Stateless, I, of course, was aware of the Netflix series long before it was released on July 8th. The issue we fight for every day being televised in a series is a great thing for our mission — it raises awareness and reaches an audience no other vehicle could possibly provide. We, as a group, discussed watching the series together. While some of our members have some feedback on what they are seeing, I personally decided not to watch the series at this time. I am not watching well directed and produced stateless story lines, since I encounter many real stateless accounts daily, including my own. I feel that even a well-packaged blockbuster can be triggering to those of us, who have experienced firsthand the dark sides of statelessness and detention. Finally, I don’t believe any movie or series can capture the reality of an issue as grave as statelessness.
United Stateless as an organization receives actual communications from detention centers all over the US through pen-pal programs we’ve established. We converse with real, often arbitrarily-detained individuals, with real lives, conveying facts about their prolonged detention conditions. As one might be emotionally moved by some of the well-directed scenes in “Stateless,” I will argue that the reality of messages like the letters we receive is much more impressionable.
I have received messages from those held in immigration detention describing being treated as animals, as less than human. I’ve read descriptions of detainees who cannot read or understand English needing to navigate this traumatic experience away from their families. And I’ve read messages that underscore the fact that these are not bad people, yet our system criminalizes them.
On a personal level, experiencing statelessness is very traumatic. Some members of our organization have been in detention. Some of us live with the daily fear of it for ourselves and/or our families. Watching a movie about this experience can trigger memories and fears. This, of course, also happens when we interact with real stateless people and hear their stories — when we receive desperate messages from detention centers. However, we are able to interact with these real people, respond to them, support them, be there for them as much as we are able to. This alleviates some of the stress we all feel when triggered by statelessness.
Movies have to attract audiences. We all hear the “based on a true story” every once in a while and that somehow adds credibility to what is being conveyed. We follow the storyline and the character struggle, but very often it is adjusted, directed and produced to keep us engaged and develop empathy for characters. In reality, statelessness is often un-relatable to the general population. The stateless may not even be able to communicate with you in a language that you understand. But they all have one thing in common: they need our help because their human rights are being violated by broken immigration systems all over the world.
Go ahead and watch the series. Get familiar with the issue of statelessness. Look up United Stateless and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Find an immigration detention center in your state. Reach out to an organization that manages visitations. Find a stateless detainee and hear their story. See it through your own eyes.