Rebecca Dharmapalan Uses Art As A Means Of Activism For The Tamil People & Other Marginalized Communities
Rebecca Dharmapalan is an artist, filmmaker, musician, and currently an MA of Human Rights Law student at SOAS University of London. As a teenager, she became extremely passionate about human rights for underrepresented and marginalized groups and decided to use her art as a means of activism, creating short films and giving a TEDxTalk discussing the child sex trafficking epidemic in the United States. Dharmapalan is currently producing her first feature length film on the Tamil Eelam diaspora, in hopes of helping make the Tamil people and their story more visible. That's why Rebecca Dharmapalan is included in this special edition of Bustle's Must Follow, in which we highlight the incredible Asian American and Pacific Islander voices you need to follow on Instagram and Twitter.
Briefly describe yourself, including how you identify and what you do.
I am an Eelam Tamil and Goan Filmmaker Musician and Activist. Eelam is the Tamil word for "homeland" and is the independent de facto state for Tamils the North and Eastern parts of the island of Sri Lanka. We do not identify as "Sri Lankan" as the Sri Lankan state committed a large scale genocide of our people in 2009. Tamil is our ethnic group. Tamil people live all over the world, from South India, to Sri Lanka, to Malaysia, Australia, and all over Europe. My family lives in Oakland, California. Many diaspora groups migrated as refugees from Sri Lanka during the civil war, which is why there are so many large communities outside of the motherland.
What do you hope people take away from following you/your work in the industry and on social media?
My presence on social media, particularly Instagram, is to hold space for Tamil people. To show the vastness of our varying cultural backgrounds, and the beauty of our people. Along with that, I hope to draw in a larger community to build solidarity with other movements, particularly for the Black Liberation, Free Palestine, and Free Kurdistan movements. My work is focused on several elements.
I am a MA Human Rights Law researcher in London, where my focus is on researching the Tamil Liberation moment and women's involvement and feminisms in the Tamil Tigers. Along with my academic research, I am working on my first feature length experimental film on the Tamil Genocide. We have collaborated with 20+ artists around the world. My film, "The Three Performances of Serendip" portrays the stories of Tamil refugees around the world. This project is extremely nuanced and formulates authentic solidarity with other communities of color by celebrating the beauty of our people and the humanity of youthful voices.
When did you first feel that you were a voice for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community?
South Asians, particularly Tamil people, have felt excluded from the AAPI community for many years. When I was growing up "Asian" implied East Asian, even the inclusion of South East Asians was a stretch. I am so pleased to see that we have been able to grow as a community. Even having me on on this list makes me feel so visible!
Who's another Asian American or Pacific Islander person you would recommend to follow on social media?
Definitely follow my little sis @deva.rani. She's a genius musician composer and protege filmmaker!
Follow Rebecca Dharmapalan on Instagram, @dharmapalan
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.