• Cagla Bulut

“I AM ROHINGYA” when a film audience becomes witnesses of a genocide

Updated: Jun 9, 2019

If you hear two actors starting their performance with the following line: “You’re not only watching a piece of art tonight. You’re witnesses of a genocide”, you know that the show you’re about to see, will be anything but usual.

Canadian play and film director Yusuf Zine created an art-piece with 14 Rohingya youth, telling personal stories about flight, violence, starvation, despair and new beginnings.

The film follows the youth, aged eight to 22, re-enacting their personal stories in a theatre performance. They slip into the roles of their parents and replay what happened during their flight from Myanmar to Toronto, Canada. Each story is different and takes the viewer on a journey, revealing all ugly and inhuman sides each of them had to go through.

There’s always the debate to what extent it’s ethical to create art from pain and to derive pleasure from it. But it is out of the question that these stories have to be told and heard in some way. Zine managed to show his audience the suffrage of Rohingya people in creating scenes going underneath the skin. And in setting up dialogues, leading the viewers and listeners to reflect on what they just saw, also after the movie.

The film had its screening in London’s borough South Kensington. Before the movie was shown, two Rohingya youths playing in the movie, performed their part.

'I am Rohingya' actors Ahmed Ullah and Ruma Ruma at the London film-screening. © Cagla Bulut

Ruma Ruma told us the story of her best friend Nora and how they used to play hide and seek in her childhood. Ruma said that she was always the better hider and Nora the better seeker. So, one day when Ruma was hiding and waiting for her friend to come and find her, she never came. Instead, the Burmese military invaded and shot Nora. Ruma never forgave herself for being the one who was hiding, and not Nora.

Hearing stories like this is without doubt touching. But watching the person replaying her traumatic experience in front of your eyes makes it very hard to keep a distance from what is happening on stage. It makes it almost impossible to remain 'only' a viewer, seeing the performers' eyes filled with tears and hearing their trembling voice, reflecting their pain.

This art-piece raises awareness in retelling what has happened to those young people and their families. At the same time, it aims to educate its audience and let them know that genocides and brutal killings of innocent humans, is not only a dark side of history but is still happening.

It was not a coincidence that the film had its first international tour in the UK. In an interview, Director Zine said that Britain’s past is one of the reasons for screening it on the island.

“The UK has its own history of immigration, colonisation, and imperialism, so I guess it’s sort of victory to bring a project like this here and have people come out and see it”. What’s happening to the Rohingya is genocide. But there’s an element of colonialism, where they (Buddhist extremists) are taking over and saying that these people are savages and they don’t deserve to be here and we need to cleanse this nation.”

Rima Ali a student in London came to see the movie with her family. She said that she felt more empathy with Rohingya people, because of the play’s personal narrative compared to the narrative of news.

She explained, “The news always represents numbers and it doesn’t go in depth to what’s happened, whereas this told you what happened. It’s not telling you about someone else’s story, cause you can hear when people hear other people’s stories, but it’s not as powerful as if it’s coming out from them.”

For those who want to learn more about the Rohingya and the situation in Myanmar, this documentary is definitely one of the most authentic and moving ways.

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