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Stateless: A Film by Michele Stephenson

Stateless – A Powerful Story about Justice | Judith Pila

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Some stories make you wish they were not true.
Stories about people dehumanized and slaughtered because of the colour of their skin. Stories that may not be suitable for children since they represent the darker side of human history. Stories that serve as a sobering reminder, like the horrifying fate suffered by tens of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry in the 1930s.

But here is where the irony comes in. During the genocide, there were young casualties, such as the mythical Moraime in Michele Stephenson’s documentary Stateless – a young girl who fled after her parents were killed in the 1937 tragedy. Her story is a beginning storyline to remember the victims.

 It was intolerable for the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court to revive the horrors 76 years later, at least for a young attorney called Rosa Iris. She is another plot intertwined in the strength of a purposeful character who protests the Dominican Republic’s 2013 declaration. It stripped over 200,000 people of their citizenship, including Juan Teofilo Murat’s, her cousin. Xenophobic ideologies as advocated in the film by Gladys Feliz, a member of the country’s national movement group, would also not help. Haitians were blamed for the “problems” in Dominican Republic.

Rosa Iris thus becomes a light bearer, delivering glimmers of hope by her grit and determination. There is a scene in the film where she defends a young man’s paperwork, contending for his right to citizenship despite a processing officer alleging he did not speak Spanish, until Rosa confronts her. Another uplifting and candid scene depicts Rosa as the enthusiastic character she is. She teaches her two children about the concept of statelessness. She does this with such care, yet with such honesty that it suppresses the terror based on optimism for change through her activism.

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Rosa’s generosity would stretch further when she traveled to Haiti for the first time. She is full of youthful energy after falling into the arms of her cousin, Juan Teofilo Murat. She bounces freely and expresses a sense of being welcomed to a place. Her presence equally makes him feel a little better, even though he is suffering from the burden of statelessness. She requests his papers and scans it, then advises him on how to restore his citizenship.

Watch it here:

Rosa is unfazed in her effort to restore some humanity amidst the sad realities of state-sanctioned racism. She takes a bigger risk by initiating a political campaign to push systemic change. Despite threats and bureaucratic impediments, she becomes a voice for disenfranchised citizens, the stateless.


Rosa Iris, as filmmaker and director Michèle Stephenson  represent a compelling cause for the themes explored in her film. She is not just a symbol of the fight against injustice and institutionalized racism, but a figure for sustaining emerging, contemporary narratives to empower women.

The documentary does not intentionally establish that connection since it was not its central theme, yet it is valid for a bigger, relatable advocacy of enabling women to break through barriers in their varied career pathways. Stateless is a fantastic source of inspiration for people of colour and women all around the world!


Judith Pila is a Content Editor at  


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