On Saturday, Grammy-nominated singer Katy Perry will join celebrities and women marching on Washington to oppose President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. Ahead of this, she’s also lending her star power and her pocketbook to “#DontNormalizeHate,” a PSA posted to YouTube that draws parallels between Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
The public service announcement asks one simple question: Is history repeating itself?
Perry executive-produced the PSA, which shares the story of 89-year-old Haru Kuromiya, a native of Riverside, California, whose family was forced to leave its home for an internment camp by order of the American government – an act of prejudice and fear that remains an ugly stain on U.S. history.
“My entire family was put on a registry,” she recalls, before a potent twist lends the PSA an urgent relevance. “Our constitutional rights were taken away from us.”
Co-directed by filmmakers Aya Tanimura and Tim Nackashi, the #DontNormalizeHate PSA landed the support of director Spike Jonze and actor-activist George Takei. But it was Perry whom Tanimura credits for making the short possible. In need of financing to cover the costs of prosthetics materials to commission a custom-made mask, the filmmakers called Perry, who gave them a blank check. “Katy has always been a champion of the underdog, of minorities, of the people who are kind of left of center, and she’s become more politically involved in the last few election cycles,” Tanimura said.
Tanimura, a filmmaker of Japanese and Australian descent who’s worked with recording artists Charlie Puth, Alessia Cara and Perry (directing the lyric videos for “Roar,” “Unconditionally” and “Birthday”), had felt a rising sense of panic while watching a Trump campaign punctuated by volatile rhetoric about women, Muslims and minorities.
“Trump has created an atmosphere of fear for Muslim Americans in the United States,” she said. “The accountability and responsibility for what you say and do now has been lifted, so people feel a little freer to be racist, or act upon racism, because there are not necessarily consequences for it – it’s just acceptable behavior. If laws are put in place to back that up, it will be pretty scary.”
On the campaign trail, for example, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” inciting fear of a Muslim American population that, he claimed in a statement that remains posted on his website, held “hatred beyond comparison” for the rest of the country.
The possibility of a registry has been looming over Muslim Americans since, while increased harassment and intimidation of minorities was reported in the days after the election. (Trump’s camp has since distanced him from the proposal. But neither he nor his secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, has gone on record to rule it out.)
The sentiment is not unfamiliar to those with good memories.
“The Japanese race is an enemy race,” asserted Army Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, who wasn’t alone in loudly advocating internment on racist grounds. “And while many second- and third-generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.”
On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the roundup of all people of Japanese ancestry in the name of national security. Entire families were uprooted, losing their homes, possessions and businesses.
Tanimura brainstormed the PSA with Oscar-nominated special effects guru Tony Gardner, who crafted the custom prosthetics makeup. She and Nackashi partnered with Asian American nonprofit Visual Communications, got crews to donate time to shoot the piece, and cast Hina Khan, an L.A.-based actress of Pakistani heritage. “Casting a Muslim actress was nonnegotiable,” said Tanimura.
With support from politically active celebrities like Perry, who shared the PSA on Thursday with her 155.2 million followers on Twitter and Instagram, Tanimura and Nackishi are hoping their message reaches a wide audience at a pivotal time in America.
“I think like a lot of us who are terrified of Trump’s ideals and policies, she is too,” Tanimura said of Perry. “And this is one instance where she’s able to help educate someone – even one person – on the horrors of the past and what could potentially be repeated.”
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