Labor of Birth

It is Christmas Eve in the world. I am at home with my family after many months. I finally have a moment to reflect.

Since September, I have lived a split life. On weekdays, I am in Boston keeping up appearances as a graduate student at Harvard Divinity, and on weekends, I am a filmmaker in Los Angeles, working in a tiny editing room on our documentary. We are in the final phase of Divided We Fall, shaping our two-hour rough cut into a polished completed film to be released in early 2006. This last phase has been more difficult than I could have ever imagined.

I have not written very much here during post-production. Between our preview screenings in Toronto, Harvard, and Southern California lie a mess of unglamorous stressful moments. There are long hours on the plane cross-country and long nights in the editing room with the team, trying new arrangements and new orders, cutting here, adding there, re-recording narration for the hundredth time, returning to the storyboard, working through frustration – don’t forget to eat something – watching the cut again, congratulating each other, berating each other – maybe we’re getting closer – getting stuck, breaking through – don’t forget. to. breathe. Making this film feels like giving birth to a something big after a four-year pregnancy. And this is labor, the most painful part.

One of the darkest nights for me came on December 11, 2005. That was the night we received news of the race riots in Sydney, Australia (pictured). Once again, the animosity lurking beneath the surface had broken out into violence in a community. Once again, the media reported the event. But there was little attention to the fact that violence is the last moment of an entire process in imagination. Dark-skinned faces are constructed as others, as foreigners, as enemies, in a nation’s consciousness before they are targeted by mobs. The race riots in Australia have shown that the question ‘who are we’ is not exclusive to America but concerns any pluralistic society.

My roommate is from Australia. I asked her, “Why aren’t certain faces seen as Australian?” She asked me, “Why aren’t certain faces seen as American?” Then she pointed out something interesting. She was born in Australia, yet people never ask her where she is from. If they do, she says “Chicago” and that’s that. My family has been in America for three generations, yet strangers almost always ask me where I am from. I answer “California” but that is never enough. They push me until I tell them that my grandparents are from India and there it is – I am an immigrant, problem solved. I appreciate people expressing interest in my ancestry, but I recognize clearly the assumption that usually underlies these questions: they do not see my face as an American face. Yet as my roommate pointed out, her ‘American-ness’ as a white woman is never questioned, despite her Australian birth.

So where are we now with the film? We’re closer than we were before. We need just a few more months. And we need funds. Finishing funds. This is my biggest prayer right now – that we find the support we need to finish, from small donations to larger investments.

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