'Diwa' is a poignant reminder of the fractured American dream

Told through the eyes of a sexual assault victim, Diwa takes a hard and devastatingly real look at the plight of undocumented immigrants in America.


                            'Diwa' is a poignant reminder of the fractured American dream

"No More family separations".

Gathered on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday,  a large group of people, including those suffering from the plight of strict immigration codes and child advocates, protested the latest Trump policy of separating children from their parents. By parents, I mean, undocumented immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, illegally. 

If the policy sounds ghastly, wait for the official figure that is sure to paint the most devastatingly real picture of the number of families who have been affected by the separation system adopted by the US administration in what it calls an attempt to curb illegal immigration. 

So far, at least 1800 immigrant families are reported to have been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of President Donald Trump's stricter border enforcement policies. And as unfortunate as it sounds, the current administration is showing no signs of remorse or retreat despite the strong stand taken against this policy by several Democratic lawmakers and even the United Nations.  

Against the backdrop of these alarming statistics is set Aina Dumlao's latest short social justice film, 'Diwa',  which opens for a world premiere at the 2018 Dances With Films festival this Saturday. What begins as a one-victim narrative soon spirals into a more generalistic and profound perspective as Dumlao's lead character, in the short duration of the plot progression, endures unimaginable plight, passing through one government department after another.

Like many others in America at the moment, Diwa happens to be an immigrant, undocumented, arriving at the land of dreams to fulfil that great working class prophesy - work hard and ensure the life you desire. But with fiction intermingling with reality, and 24-hour news channels blasting President Trump's now-infamous Mexican speech in the background, the narrative takes a sudden yet predictable turn. In a moment defined by years of cultivated insecurity and ignorance, justice becomes a selective tool in the hands of a crippled law enforcement. 

In her three months of working as a low-grade cleaning staff at a posh unit in the U.S., Diwa's nightmarish journey - unfailingly the most relevant and timely commentary on the current state of affairs - peaks soon. She is raped. And her assaulter is none other than the man, seemingly an outsider himself, who offers her the job in the first place - a short yet lasting appearance by Eddie Martinez as Elmer Santos. 

The natural progression of this frightful incident is scenes of a broken immigration system and a failure on part of the law and order to provide justice to a victim of sexual assault. 

Undoubtedly, it requires real calibre and understanding to squeeze in such a sensitive plot within the 18-odd minutes while serving hard-hitting truth through the eyes of a victim. But thanks to the able rendition by Maria Pallas as Nadine and Leslie Thurston as Jill, Diwa's story is aptly told. 

In fact, after a difficult sit-through (there's an inevitable happening at the end) the effective and lasting performances is what stays fresh in the memory. Whether it's a short appearance by Shaw Jones and Jeremy Andorfer-Lopez in the good cop-bad cop routine or Dumlao's Diwa's stirring presence throughout every frame - acting prowess takes centre stage in this short film. 

It's rare to come across a narrative, where despite the lead character basking in all the limelight, the story manages to shine - and 'Diwa' manages just that and more. Just a little short of being an example for fine thespianism, however, Dumlao's short receives a Midas touch in the form of Ramesh Kumar Kannan's hauntingly beautiful background score. 

If not for answers, 'Diwa' deserves a watch just for evoking empathy, empathy for the countless people suffering the same harassment, abuse, and ill-treatment in a very realistic world.  

'Diwa' had its world premiere at Dances With Films on June 9, Saturday at 5 pm at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood.