The plight of undocumented immigrants coming to the United States is not a unique story, but MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND shares it through a distinct feminist lens. Luciana, the female character at the heart of this independent film, has fled to New York City to escape a traumatic past event and to forge a new life. Alas, Luciana’s undocumented status forces her into a life of menial, low-paying jobs that barely cover her most basic expenses. After an exhausting day at her job, she arrives home to a roach infested, unwelcoming environment with notes posted on the refrigerator stating, “RENT DUE TOMORROW-NOT ASKING AGAIN.” When she opens the refrigerator door, food is clearly marked as not belonging to her. We’re left to wonder how much worse it must have been in her country of origin that she will now endure this type of existence.
But unpleasant roommates, dirty apartments and lousy jobs are the least of the dangers that await Luciana in the foreign land she now calls home. Her status as a woman and an immigrant make her uniquely vulnerable to the abuses that occur with the sex trade and human trafficking. She has a network of girlfriends in her now adopted city of New York, and they too struggle in the shadows with their undocumented status. When one of these friends ask her to cover for her for a job where she is told she will make thousands of dollars simply to attend a party and look attractive in the requisite black dress. “What do I have to do?” she asks, wary, and is given a not very reassuring answer of, “nothing but what you are told.” Desperate for the money, she agrees and as one might expect, it does not get better from there.
In recent years, the debate surrounding immigration and undocumented workers has grown increasingly vitriolic and unproductive. Hopefully, this film will help expose the plight of women migrants who are vulnerable to being victimized by violent predators and sexual exploitation. According to the Human Rights Center of the University of California at Berkeley, in the United States victims of trafficking are almost exclusively women and immigrants. While it’s true that there are some visas, services and benefits available to these victims, they must be willing to cooperate with a criminal investigation and fearing for their safety many choose to remain silent. Undocumented migrant workers deserve the same protection as anyone else. Perhaps it’s time that our lawmakers have a serious discussion regarding this ugly reality and very real toll this places on human life, factors often overlooked in this fraught discussion. And part of the debate needs to consider the decriminalization of both undocumented migrants and sex workers, thus allowing them to come out of the shadows where the dangers are vast.
MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND is the debut of Spanish female director Ana Asensio, who also stars as Luciana. The film premiered at South by Southwest in 2017. It’s an impressive start for its director, who clearly connects to the plight of immigrants in a foreign country and has directed a poignant film that captures both the courage and vulnerability of the female immigrant experience.
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