Oscar-nominated writer-director Chris Weitz is known for making popular fare like American Pie, About a Boy and Twilight: New Moon. But last year he made the independent feature A Better Life, which chronicles an undocumented gardener in East LA as he tries to create better opportunities and a better life for his son. Star Demián Bichir received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Carlos Galindo.
And obviously, this topic of immigration and the undocumented stuck with Weitz. Because he has now trained his camera on Alabama and the fallout in that state from HB 56, the draconian immigration measures that have led to mass chaos.
Weitz created four short films, all available at the site Is This Alabama. The documentary shorts all look at the Alabama law in a variety of different contexts. In one, Weitz talks to African-Americans who look at the law in the context of their own struggles for civil rights in Alabama. As U.W. Clemons, a former chief justice at a US District Court in the state, says, “Since it’s pretty clear that they can’t put us out because we’re not carrying the right kind of card, they’ve turned on the new Negro, the Hispanics.”
Another film, “The Two Faces of Alabama,” contrasts an obvious bigot with a white teacher expressing upset over the ramifications of the law, which has caused the majority of Hispanic students to leave school out of fear that their parents will be targeted for deportation. A third, “Not the Kind of Alabama I Want,” features an older white Alabamian who is disgusted with the fear and hatred that the law has sown. Finally, “An Alabama Mother Speaks” gives voice to an Hispanic mother, who will not show her face on camera, to tell her story and the story of her children. “They just want to be free, they want to go to the park” the woman says of her kids. “They don’t understand why Mommy and Daddy are crying.”
The effective films tell the human story of a law that has caused such an upheaval in Alabama that even Republican lawmakers, including the Governor, have acknowledged the need to change it. But Weitz and the Is This Alabama coalition want the law to be fully repealed.
The films are premiering at this hour at the Center for American Progress, alongside a new report, “Alabama’s Immigration Disaster: The Harshest Law in the Land Harms the State’s Economy and Society,” which details the impact of HB 56 on the state’s economy and its families. Here’s an excerpt.
Overall, as Professor Samuel Addy of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration has illustrated, because of H.B. 56, Alabama could lose up to $10.8 billion (or 6.2 percent of its gross domestic product), up to 140,000 jobs in the state, $264.5 million in state tax revenue, and $93 million in local tax revenue.
These costs will all be incurred to drive out an undocumented population that is estimated to be only 2.5 percent of the state—a population that paid $130 million into the state’s tax coffers in 2010.
Using story-telling talent to get across the breadth of the devastation in Alabama is a good tactic for progressive activists. Hopefully this will be a beginning and not an anomaly.