My Take: I’m An Immigrant, Not A Liability
by: Arsal Asal
I’ve spent about 10 of my 26 years of life in the U.S. Being an only child of a Turkish father and a half Turkish and Half Armenian mother, I was raised to love and respect all the good in people without discriminating. While my parents are faithful Muslims, they did not raise me as such, nor did I ever practice any other religions.
My current status: too much a “Muslim” in the US and not enough of one back at home.
It’s 2017. I thought we were better than this.
As an emerging filmmaker, I’ve always known that I would face difficulties in pursuing film. As a young Turkish woman, I struggle to make my voice and my work acknowledged among patriarchal film sets, deep cultural mindsets that perceive my filmmaking more as a “hobby” than a professional art form, and societies that care more about my nationality and appearance than my talent.
I never thought I would be facing discrimination in both countries I call home. I can’t tell you how many times I felt stressed in Turkey, trying to cover my tattoos and piercings while applying to get official warrants for shooting locations. I can’t tell you how many times I had to alter my scripts, change my storylines, or not be able to share my work because it would be marked by certain prejudice audiences. And the worst, at times I just gave up on a project because I felt too weak to put up a fight.
On the other side, in the United States, I have to admit that most processes go much more smoothly. That is, until I have to rent a space or rent out gear for production. That’s where the nationality and the religion parts come up, and in some cases, can make the other party not trust me and decide to not work with me. Both are examples of a cycle that keeps happening not only to filmmakers, but also to all artists, free thinkers, and free spirits around the world. The effects fluctuate depending on politics, regimes, presumptions, and prejudices.
I admit that I am one of the lucky ones. I attended graduate school in New York and loved it; it was fresh, inspiring, and challenging––all the right ingredients to force myself to grow. I constantly pushed myself and my creativity. For two years, my life was kind of like an updated version of “The American Dream.” Then I graduated.
Since then, people repetitively tell me that I am not a cost-efficient candidate as an employee because I am not a citizen, and therefore, I require too much paperwork. Sponsoring a non-American citizen is too inconvenient for most employers.
As anyone who wants to become a filmmaker, is a filmmaker, or is a current student of film might know, the most common way to break into the film business is through undertaking minor roles that educate you and help you gain experience on film sets, such as becoming a 2nd PA or a 3rd AD and so forth. When you are classified as a “foreigner” most productions will likely not choose you because you cost them more. By not choosing you, productions do not have to pay certain fees that go along with the non-citizen profile of an applicant. To be honest, I feel bad blaming only the industry. No matter how large of a production there might be, all productions have budgets, and someone has a job to stick with the budget and find resources that are affordable and effective. For some of us, effective can be costly, and therefore, we are not ideal candidates in this current system.
In the end, the majority of foreign filmmakers dive into the art of independent filmmaking, which is amazing on its own. However, most of us fall into this area because it’s the only way we feel like we might actually make it. If you ask me, this is inefficient. We have all of these resources and individuals who are extremely talented, but people shun us because of the color of our skins, because of our nationalities, or simply because of our citizenship.
It took a few times for it to hit me––no matter how valuable my experiences are, no matter who I meet, or what projects I work on, as long as my legal papers are foreign, I will most likely stay “foreign” forever. It doesn’t matter that I’m bilingual, that I live in the States, that I got degrees from within the U.S., or that I call this country my second home. This is a true tragedy for me because I am from a country in which I know I will most likely never be able to reach my full potential due to politics.
The issues remain the same around the rest of the world, not only in these two countries; this is only my experience so far, and I know others out there have faced similar challenges. In the end, our struggle is created by pre-set rules and ideas.
At the moment, while I’m employed, I am half way through my work permit so I don’t know what will happen toward the end of the year. I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way; I know I’m not the only one who has suffered from an imbalance of power, prejudice, and inequality. I know others have suffered more––the saddest part of this is that many who suffer are indeed “citizens.”
There is a silver lining, though. The moving image is powerful because it enables a universal perception through different audiences. I always wanted to make films but never had the guts to try it until I attended Occupy Gezi Protests that took place in Istanbul in 2013. I wanted to share the movement, but most tools I was familiar with could not share the message internationally. Eventually I decided to learn more about cameras and visual storytelling, and along the way I fell in love with the whole process of filmmaking. I have been writing, directing, and shooting short films ever since. Eventually, I want to dive deep into linear feature films and explore that area.
Through creating, we the people are finally starting to gain back our power. The unity and the support that has arisen since the last election has been eye opening and heart warming. It keeps me going. I’ve come to realize that, at one point, you just have to take a deep breath, say fuck it, and move on––go and create, do what you love and what makes you feel good, because that’s where the real magic happens. By doing this, you will be actively fighting and purging the evil out of the system without violence and once you catch that momentum, you will achieve whatever it is you are running toward. Stay strong; we are all in this together––I’ll see you all at the top.
Arsal Asal is a recent grad from the New School with a Masters in Media Studies with a concentration in digital filmmaking and a certificate in screenwriting. She currently lives in San Francisco, CA where she works as a Creative Producer in a tech company. She has both successfully created and collaborated on several short film and photography projects over the past year both in the US and in her home country Turkey. Her most recent completed short film “Turn Blue” has made its debut during New York Short Film Festival and several other national festivals.