Testimony of genocide: Director Yusuf Zine wants people to share the story of the Rohingya

Written by Shanthi Bell on October 2, 2018

Yusuf Zine speaks about the Rohingya crisis and his directorial debut in Fredericton. Photo by Sophie M. Lavoie.

Fredericton social justice groups and university departments came together to screen the timely film, I Am Roghingya: A Genocide in Four Acts, on Sept. 25 at St. Thomas University. The powerful documentary, about a play by Rohingya youth in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, received a standing ovation from the mostly student audience.

The film, which took three years to record and produce, is Yusuf Zine’s first documentary. Zine, an actor, writer, producer, and director, worked with 14 young Rohingya refugees to create a play reenacting their families’ experiences. The film, which features stunning cinematography by Kevin Young, documents the creation of the play and the lives of the cast members as they work to share their stories and make their voices heard.

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority from the country of Myanmar. In 1982, the Myanmar military government stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and identity. Since then, the Myanmar military government has committed ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Rohingya people causing hundreds of thousands to flee Rakhine state in Myanmar. In a chilling scene, the children state on stage that they or their families have been subjected to acts of murder, sexual violence, torture, and other human rights abuses. Their collective play reenacts some of these moments.

The Rohingya are rarely discussed in mainstream media. It was not until September 20, 2018 that the Canadian Government even acknowledged the acts against the Rohingya as a genocide. Up until then, Canada referred to the acts as “ethnic cleansing.” Three days after Fredericton film screening, on Sept. 28, Canadian MPs voted unanimously to strip Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, of her honorary Canadian citizenship because of the crimes committed against the Rohingya people.

Canada accepted 300 Rohingya families as refugees, from 2008-2010, when Bangladesh suspended a placement program for the Rohingya refugees. The 14 Rohingya youth in the film immigrated to Canada with their families during this time.

The youth chose to create a play to share their stories because they felt no one knew the reality of the Rohingya. Zine told the audience after the screening, “It’s not just any documentary. Watching this comes with a responsibility. You’ve just become a witness to testimony of genocide. You have a responsibility now to take what you’ve watched and share it with people who don’t know.”

Zine’s first ever visit to the Maritimes was made possible through support from Cinema Politica Fredericton, the Atlantic Human Rights Centre, the Canada Research Chair in Global Studies and International Studies, STU Women’s Studies & Gender Studies, Theatre St. Thomas, No One Is Illegal Fredericton, Unifor 4504 and the Asian Heritage Society of NB.

The film can be rented/purchased online on Vimeo On Demand. 

Shanthi Bell is a UNB Arts 3000 Intern with the NB Media Coop studying psychology and media arts and cultures.

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