Guest Bloggers – Interview with Erika Street Hopman
The short narrative film, “The Orange Story” deals with America in the 1940s and the start of the Japanese internment camps. Director Erika Street Hopman gives us an inside look into the film and it’s various aspects.
As a filmmaker, I’m very interested in the intersection of documentary and narrative fiction filmmaking, so this story was right up my alley. When I received the first draft of the script from our producer, Eugene Park, I was very moved by the story. It was a short, but it had so much richness and so many layers to explore with the actors.
The film portrays an important but shameful moment in American history – one that is too often skipped or glossed over in school history classes. By telling this story through narrative film, I hoped we could help more people learn about Japanese American incarceration during WWII, and also help them connect it to contemporary issues and events.
The Orange Story specifically examines the culture of xenophobia and fear that led up to the incarceration. These are topics that transcend this moment in history, and continue to be relevant and important now. We started working on this film long before Trump took office, but with recent debates over immigration and the Muslim ban, it’s become more important than ever to examine what led up to Japanese American incarceration during WWII.
I love documentaries, and I think that they’re a fabulous way to tell certain stories. But when you’re looking at historical events, it’s easy for a documentary portrayal to feel distant and removed. I think it also requires a certain presupposed interest in a topic for someone to sit down and watch a documentary.
By telling this story with actors and a script, we can make the history feel more immediate and alive. We can also help people become more emotionally invested in our characters. As they watch The Orange Story, I hope people will connect with this history on a human level – not just look at it as a series of dates and facts and events. In the process, I believe people will begin to think more critically about Japanese American incarceration during WWII, and recognize the parallels to the racism and xenophobia present in their own lives.
I hope this film inspires people to remember that small gestures matter. Each of us encounters moments in our own lives when we must decide whether to stand up against racism or perpetuate it. Those individual moments may be small, but they have a much larger context and significance.
So few Americans understand or even know about the Japanese American WWIII incarceration – there are a lot of students who are not learning about it at all. It’s not taught as widely or as in-depth as I think it should be. I think there are many reasons for that. One is that it’s such a shameful moment in our history, and a moment that in the scheme of things, is still relatively recent. As Americans, we pride ourselves on being the land of the free, and leaders regarding human and civil rights. When we talk about our country’s role in WWII, we tend to see ourselves as the heroes who helped fight Hitler and free Jews from concentrations camps. Yet at the same time, we were unjustly incarcerating our own citizens. Acknowledging and discussing that juxtaposition can lead to a lot of complicated questions about our national identity, what freedom really means to us, and how we treat minorities and immigrants in the United States. It forces a level of introspection that can be quite uncomfortable.
I see many parallels between this history and current events – particularly the treatment of Muslim-Americans, attitudes towards refugees, and our nation’s response to terrorism. I think we have to stay vigilant to make sure that history does not repeat itself. We all have a responsibility to do and be better, and to help our country act according to the American ideals we espouse.
The film paints a grim picture of the consequences of fear and racism, but it also sends a positive message that there is hope for future generations. I will say that so far, the reception to the film has reinforced that optimism. After screenings, youth in particular have seemed to connect with Koji’s story and asked very thoughtful questions. I hope the story sticks with them and they share it with their peers.