Chicago-based Malaysian director highlights Malaysia's stateless and refugee communities in animated docuseries


'Each story aims to guide viewers to a place of understanding and empathy for our participants,' says Jean Ho.

Jean Ho, a Malaysian director currently based in Chicago, the United States, wanted to tackle the topic of Malaysia's stateless and refugee communities as her next project.

Inspired by the lack of attention to these communities, she first applied for a grant in 2020 with Freedom Film Network but didn't succeed.

However, she wasn't discouraged. She decided to independently fund and produce the docuseries Invisible People.

Ho told The Star via an email interview: “The film’s title is a poignant reflection of many stateless individuals and refugees within our social fabric.

“It’s time for us to stop overlooking their existence and experiences. It’s time their stories and voices are heard.”

The production team, which initially consisted of Ho and producer Ng Li Wei, wanted to tell the stories of each person in a unique manner. They achieved this by using different animation techniques such as traditional 2D to “psychedelic animation” in each episode which is about six to seven minutes long.

Jean Ho has been working on the docuseries for three years now. Jean Ho has been working on the docuseries for three years now.

“We conducted six separate hour-long interviews in total, but since we’re made of a small team, it would have been logistically difficult to bring them to life in their entirety. ...

“Each story aims to guide viewers to a place of understanding and empathy for our participants,” she added on why animation was used.

The stories featured in the series were selected through personal connections and outreach efforts.

Participants share their experiences, highlighting the systemic barriers faced by stateless and refugee communities in Malaysia.

“Although our relationships with the participants started off professional, we gradually got closer and more casual through many text exchanges pre and post-interviews.

“Li Wei and I are both very grateful for their enthusiasm to share their experiences with us. And yes, we still keep in touch with one another!”

Ho – who graduated from DePaul University in Chicago – also got in touch with the university’s Animation School for help.

“In hindsight, constraints surrounding our production allowed me to have more creative freedom with our material. Had this project been beholden to grant requirements and deadlines, I likely wouldn’t have been able to take this massive detour from the original concept and restructure it to better showcase the stories we’re telling.”

According to Ho, Invisible People (invisiblepeopledoc.com) is set to be released in May.

She hopes that the docuseries will shatter the stereotypes surrounding these people.

“I hope that Malaysians, or any viewer really, can look beyond societal labels and realise that every individual in these communities has their own story and relationship with Malaysia.

“By showcasing our participants’ stories, we aim to further spread awareness on these issues and incite calls for change, be it big or small.”

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