by Daniel Rotman
While working with Immigration Equality, I discovered the stories of numerous transgender clients battling for asylum in the United States. Transgression’s formation began in summer 2011. I had a fellowship funded by the Traub-Dicker Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy with Immigration Equality, an organization that provides legal assistance and advocacy for LGBT individuals. At the culmination of the fellowship, I needed to write a lengthy thesis about a policy issue he encountered at Immigration Equality. When I returned to Harvard at the end of the fellowship, I had an idea: create a documentary to showcase the plight of transgender detainees as a more effective and powerful educational piece. With the permission of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, he proceeded with planning for the documentary.
I entered a competition at Harvard Law School’s Documentary Studio Lab, which funds amateur documentary projects. Harvard Law had recently launched the campus-wide competition to encourage amateur documentary filmmakers to film a short documentary on a policy issue. Transgression was chosen as one of the finalists and received funding support and permission to use the Lab’s film equipment to create the documentary. I approached his close friend and colleague, Morgan Hargrave, to join the team as a writer/co-director. Harvard Law Studio connected me with Morgan, T. J. Barber an experienced editor completing his freshman year at Harvard, and Toni Marzal a writer completing a master’s program at Harvard Law School. The team received the support of Immigration Equality to focus the documentary on one of its clients, Norma, and the crew filmed in New York for one week. Post-production took 2 months as the crew managed full-time school schedules.
Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, it was difficult to maintain a balance of capturing the full scope and depth of the story while respecting Norma’s pain as she recalled her experience. It was surprising to see Norma’s openness and fearlessness in telling her story, despite her difficult memories. Team Transgression tried to exercise caution with regard to revealing anything that would jeopardize Norma’s immigration status. Fortunately, there was little that the team needed to avoid including in the film. The film is in English, but Norma’s first words are in Spanish.