TV

Independent Lens: A Dream in Doubt

A Dream in Doubt observes the struggle to understand American justice and oppression as the story becomes increasingly complicated.

Independent Lens

Airtime: Tuesday, 10pm ET
Cast: Rana Singh Sodhi, Harjit Sodhi, Detective Becky Bulckley, Reena Shah (narrator)
Subtitle: A Dream in Doubt
Network: PBS
US release date: 2008-05-20
Website
Trailer
Amazon

"In America, there's a lot of opportunity." Seeking just that, in 1985, the five Sodhi brothers began emigrating from India, each establishing his own life, career, and family. On September 11, their lives, like so many in their adopted country, changed forever. But even as the Sodhis were, like other Americans, feeling afraid and anxious after the attacks, they were also feeling targeted -- and not by Muslim terrorists.

The first few moments of A Dream in Doubt show why, in menacing graffiti ("Kill Muslims 9/11") and TV reports that underlined the "difference" embodied by the bearded and turbaned Osama bin Laden. Though Rana Sodhi and his brothers are Sikh, and had in fact left Punjab in order to escape persecution, they were now affiliated in unknowing, fearful minds with the "terrorists." A series of photos reveals the effects on men wearing turbans, their faces smashed and broken, now become evidence in crimes that may or may not be solved. On 15 September 2001, Rana's oldest brother Balbir was shot and killed in Mesa, Arizona. Rana's nine-year-old son Satpreet describes what happened: "My uncle was talking to some people at his gas station, some man came up and shot him."

While Satpreet expresses a child's grief and wonder at what's happened, the adults around him, primarily Rana, struggle what it means to live in America. Though the family came to the States in search of the usual celebrated freedoms -- of religion, mobility, ambition, and community -- here they were confronting violent persecution premised on fear, ignorance, and racism. The disappointment is almost unspeakable, though Rana's brother Harjit makes this effort, in fractured yet utterly coherent English: "Our second heaven was here in America, It's so neat and clean, a place people respect human, they love each other."

Airing on PBS' Independent Lens at 10pm on 20 May, A Dream in Doubt observes this struggle as it becomes increasingly complicated. It turns out that the suspect in Balbir's murder, Frank Roque, proceeded after that shooting to shoot at two other targets, a gas station owned by Lebanese Americans and a home owned by Afghan Americans. Though he did not kill anyone else, the shell casings and descriptions of his car help detectives identify him.

Difficulties ensue. First, another one of the Sodhi brothers, this one a cab driver in San Francisco, is shot and dies in a horrific car wreck. Though investigators there doubt that Sukhpal was a hate crime victim (instead, they decide, he was caught in the way of a "regular" gang fight), the Sodhis must still figure what to make of the concept of "American justice." They never complain, but the film lays out by understated observation (including local news reports and courtroom footage) the difficulties of the legal case against Roque. Though his shooting spree was preceded by declarations of his intent to "shoot some towelheads," the case is prolonged as he pleads insanity. Coworkers describe him as a "ticking time bomb" and his own attorney notes that for years Roque's "mental illness... was just bubbling beneath the surface of his being," while he ought to "treat it with a daily six pack of beer." But even as Roque suggests that his attack was a function of too much TV (specifically, too much coverage of the Towers falling on September 11), the Sodhi family and other Sikhs face a daunting lack of coverage and communication. Though the police encourage them to call whenever they feel threatened, one especially long night of repeated phone calls reveals that dialing 911 doesn't always produce desired results.

Sikh community members hold meetings and join with the Anti Defamation League to march in unity. "Racism, bigotry," says Phoenix regional ADL director Bill Strauss, "It's a disease that is always looking for an opening, it's a virus that's always looking for a host." The demonstration, Rana says, walking in matching t-shirts with his son, will "give the people the real picture of America, when we all togethers, in unity. Different religions, different people when we all get together, the people who are ignorant, they will see what's America, what's American people."

This assessment runs up against images of Roque, his wife (during a police interrogation), his devastated daughter on the stand, and an interview with William Courtney, the bouncer at a bar where Roque and others gathered to declare outrage over 9/11. Courtney's own appraisal is dismally telling. He recalls that Roque and others in the bar were fired up, that "anybody with a turban on their head was a target, and you find out where the guy's from and that'd be a little different situation if he's from the country that got together and did it, that'd be a little different story." Here the bouncer inserts how he'd handle such a misinterpretation. "I wouldn't go out there and shoot 'em," he says, "I'd go beat the hell out of 'em, something. But not shoot 'em and kill 'em, cause what you gonna do then? You gonna be up the creek without a paddle."

A Dream in Doubt grants the bouncer his say without overt commentary. But as he appears after Roque's wife (who remembers her husband being angry at "the Iranians, the ones that wear what you call 'em, the turbans") and before a sequence showing a 9/11 anniversary on TV. As Rana shakes his head in dismay, President Bush reads, "We remember lives lost, we remember the compassion, the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day." But we do not remember, apparently, the deleterious effects of patriotism, rage, and willful ignorance, the ways that calls for vengeance can incite more aggression, cruelty, and condemnation. The cycle feeds doubts about the dream that the Sodhis so earnestly pursue.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image