In the Dominican Republic, there is an issue that divides the nation. Director Michèle Stephenson gives us a first-hand account in the compelling 2020 documentary Stateless.
Two countries share the island of Hispanola: The Dominican Republic and Haiti. There has been a historic attempt to keep the Dominican Republic white, from border tensions to outright massacres of Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans. Currently, any Dominicans of Haitian descent has had their citizenship revoked retroactively from 1929. Barring deportation, they can’t return to Haiti without proper documentation, leaving 200,000 people without a nation to call their own.
Dominicans of Haitian descent are discriminated against and considered stateless, existing in this nationless limbo surrounded by bureaucratic red tape. We follow lawyer Rosa Iris Deimdomi Alvarez, who helps those in this limbo. She’s passionate about this fight as she is a descendant of a Haitian father, growing up in the sugar cane communities populated by Haitians brought over for their labour. In Haiti, she helps her cousin, Teoflio, who has Dominican Republic-born status, but his ID was revoked due to incomplete paperwork. She also decides to run for congress as the current president, Danilo Medina, runs for re-election. It’s tense since her colleague was attacked for helping the stateless, and the threat grows as Rosa campaigns.
We also meet Gladys Feliz, a proud citizen of the Dominican Republic, with a direct lineage to those who fought for the country’s independence. She is part of a national movement against Haitians that cites crime and corruption as the driving force. Their goal is to deport “illegals” back to Haiti. It’s a difficult national situation based on racism, colourism and the denial of African descendants that complicates an already politically troubled region striving to rebuild amidst corruption.
A filmmaker and former civil rights attorney of Haitian descent, Stephenson wrote and directed the documentary, showing humanity within this complex conflict.