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Miami festival film about a 20th-century Dominican genocide resonates in the 21st

Parsley - Still  (3).jpg
timothy k fitzgerald
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Haitian actress Cyndie Lundy as Marie in the film "Parsley" debuting Sunday at the Miami Film Festival.

Parsley tells the story of a family trapped in the 1937 massacre of Black Haitians in the Dominican Republic ordered by the brutal and racist dictator Rafael Trujillo.

The Miami Film Festival opens Friday — and one of the more talked-about movies debuting there is "Parsley," which recalls a 20th-century genocide on the Dominican-Haitian border. Its director spoke with WLRN about a film that’s likely to resonate with audiences today.

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The title ("Perejil" in Spanish) is from the 1937 Parsley Massacre — when the Dominican Republic’s brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered as many as 20,000 Black Haitian-Dominicans killed. Trujillo remarked that he wanted to “whiten” his country, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

“Parsley,” a Dominican-Haitian production, tells the fictional story of a Dominican man, Frank, and his pregnant Haitian wife, Marie, trapped in that actual genocide. The film's Dominican director, José María Cabral, calls it one of history’s worst racist massacres.

Perejil (Parsley) Official Trailer

“Trujillo was a guy who actually used white powder as makeup," said Cabral. "So we’re talking about this guy who wanted to erase everything that was from Black culture or African descent.

"And I hope the film makes us see the horror of racism and xenophobia.”

Cabral agrees his film comes at a relevant moment. Not only because in recent years the Dominican Republic has enacted laws targeted at Haitians in the country that are widely decried as racist — including a constitutional reform that stripped millions of Haitian-Dominicans of citizenship — or that it’s now building a wall along its border with Haiti. But also because xenophobia is erupting around the world, from the U.S. southern border to South America, and from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia.

“For me it’s a story about a family," Cabral said of his film. "It’s this community and how, because of things that they do not control, they were separated and things ended up tragically.

"I just want people to empathize with this human story.”

“Parsley” will debut at the Miami Film Festival on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Silverspot Cinema in Miami, and it will be streamed online from March 8 to March 10. The festival runs through March 13.