Review: Missing Children and Malko
A mother and her 6-year old son travel 8 days from Guatemala hoping to reach America only to be detained and held in a “hielera”, or an icebox, by U.S. border control. There, they are deprived of clean water, lack access to sanitation facilities, and are stuffed into a room with a few dozen other mothers and children seeking the same: a better life for their families. In the middle of the night, the mother’s son is taken from her and is relocated to a facility without a childcare license. This is the bone-chilling story of Tonita and her son Wilson explored and illustrated in The Office of Missing Children.
The animated documentary created by Reveal is narrated by the real life Tonita and Wilson. Art director Michael I Schiller and animator Zachary Medow add various stylistic layers to the film to encapsulate the fear, confusion, and sense of isolation Tonita and Wilson endured in their two months apart. As they lay in the hielera, shadows from the windows resembling prison bars sprawl across their sleeping bags. Government officials are defaced, shaded in darkness, and engulfed in red light to highlight the corruption of these migrant detention facilities. Added with a stark blue tint present in some scenes, these locales appear to be part of a dark criminal underworld.
Yet, there is an odd sense of beauty behind the horrifying story shared in Missing Children. Firstly in its animation style and the conclusion of the documentary which sees Tonita and Wilson reunited after 2 months apart. Still, their immigration status remains unclear, hundreds of other children remain separated from their families and are held captive in horrendous living conditions. Missing Children presents no solutions to viewers but is adamant in educating a wider audience on the mistreatment of migrants and the 15,000 children currently under U.S. government custody across America.
The migrant story is not exclusive to the United States but is a universal tale present across the globe. Xenophobia is universal. The sense of fear and isolation which comes with the difficult task of leaving a home country and assimilating into a new culture is universally felt amongst migrants everywhere. It was the story of Tonita and Wilson and is also the story of Malko, a Haitian immigrant living in Brazil.
Like Missing Children, the stylism of Malko beautifully accentuates the eponymous character’s retelling of horrid xenophic accounts he’s had as a migrant in Brazil. Malko’s words are coupled with a dreamlike and somber look to the film. Light sources bend across the screen mirroring water droplets on top of a camera lens It’s an effective directorial choice from Brazillian director Guilherme Bohn which externalizes Malko’s tears as he chokes up recalling times in which he faced bigotry and was physically assaulted for his identity and nationality.
Malko’s greatest feat is certainly how well Bohn and his production team characterize their subject in such a short amount of time. They were tasked with introducing Malko to viewers, exploring the xenophobic and political climate of Brazil, re-imagining Malko’s worst memories as a migrant as well as capturing his vibrant and confident personality. Somehow, they juggle these tasks, not all at once but in sporadic moments throughout the short, in just under 5 minutes.
In Malko, popular views of migrants are challenged in the pseudo-documentary’s last words, “I’m Malko J. I don’t know if I’m from Haiti, Brazil, or Argentina. I don’t know where, but I’m from this land called Earth”. Like Missing Children, Malko isn’t interested in holding an explicit political stance or pushing an agenda. Rather, the politics of both stories lay in their representations of migrants which are vastly dissimilar to their faceless identities often portrayed in dominant media.
Both films stand out in a cinematic landscape where films must be in support of an explicit political movement and attempt to coerce viewers to their belief systems. This in turn doesn’t lead to a gross of information on a subject matter but leads to more divisive reactions. Contrastingly, our 5 minutes with Malko, Tonita and Wilson are informative examinations of their individual migrant experiences but don’t seek to shift opinion on the subject matter. How one chooses to read Malko’s last words or the tale of Tonita and Wilson is fully up to them. The process is slow, and it might not lead to immediate change, but it may prompt at least one of the few thousand viewers shared between both films to reassess how they view foreigners in their countries.