While it’s hard not to feel for the thousands of Middle-Eastern refugees risking life and limb each day to make the journey to European shores, most Americans feel a safe enough distance from the ongoing tragedy to avoid giving it much thought. And yeah, we have enough problems on this side of the Atlantic to keep our blood pressure surging, so why stress about something that doesn’t immediately affect us?
Well, Alicia Keys has given us a pretty good answer to that question in the form of the musicalized short film Let Me In, a collaboration with director Jonathan Olinger that features Keys’ latest neo-gospel single “Hallelujah.” In Let Me In, Keys and Olinger reimagine the refugee crisis in a serene Southern California setting, with an unexplained conflict driving throngs of US citizens across the border to Mexico.
The short starts out in a typical suburban household, where a mother played by Alicia Keys prepares her kids for school. Tension rises as Keys’ character glances nervously at a breaking news report citing ongoing bombings in Southern California, before the family’s innocent morning routine is violently upended by a sudden explosion. With nothing left to do but flee, Keys gathers up her fictional family and hits the road on an all-too-familiar refugee train that could easily be ripped from the evening news. As the ethnically-diverse mass approaches the southern border fence, they find a squad of heavily armed Mexican police awaiting them on the other side. In the desperate faces of black, white, Asian, and Latino Americans, it’s hard not to see ourselves reflected.
Remezcla was on hand when Keys premiered the short last month in a surprise event at the Tribeca Film Festival. Following up a New York-oriented short film compilation entitled The Gospel, which showcased more tracks from Keys’ untitled upcoming album, Let Me In was presented as an extension of Keys’ activist work. “I’m both an artist and an activist,” she told the rapt crowd as she expounded on the work of her newly minted social movement We Are Here.
And indeed, Keys is using her fame to drive home the brutal reality of Middle-Eastern refugees for a US audience that might find the whole ordeal too distant and abstract. To boot, Let Me In provides an ironic twist on the Mexican immigration narrative that has been stoking xenophobic extremism in this part of the hemisphere, with a narrative twist that serves as a potent reminder of our shared humanity.