The video opens with the story of 89-year-old Haru Kuromiya, a Japanese American who spent her childhood on a chicken farm in Riverside, Calif.
Sitting on a chair, with a shawl covering her small frame, Kuromiya talks about that fateful day in 1942 when government officials took her father. She and the rest of her family were later given tags and numbers to wear, she said. Then they were placed on a train, and Kuromiya, who would have been in her teens, found herself living in an internment camp.
“We had to leave our business, our homes and our possessions behind, even our pets,” she said. “We were an American farm family now living in an internment camp. And our constitutional rights were taken away from us. It all started with fear and rumors, then it bloomed into the registration of Japanese Americans.”
Then, the twist.
About a minute and a half into the video, Kuromiya stops talking. For a few seconds, she stares directly at the camera. She takes off her glasses and her wig. Nothing can be heard except the sound of a piano.
Then she slowly peels off her prosthetic mask, revealing a young woman with black hair and dark eyes.
“Don’t let history repeat itself,” she said.
The young actress is Hina Khan, a Los Angeles-based Muslim actress of Pakistani heritage.
“#DontNormalizeHate,” a nearly three-minute public service announcement produced by singer Katy Perry, draws parallels between the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and the anti-Muslim rhetoric of not only President-elect Donald Trump, but also of his advisers and picks for Cabinet members.
Katy Perry, a Hillary Clinton supporter, is among the celebrities who will attend the Women’s March in Washington on Saturday, the day after Trump’s inauguration. Other prospective attendees include America Ferrera, Cher, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Schumer, Olivia Wilde, Constance Wu, Zandaya and “Orange is the New Black” star Uzo Aduba.
The PSA’s directors, Los Angeles-based filmmakers Aya Tanimura and Tim Nackashi, said they wanted to show what they believe are eerie similarities between Japanese internment camps and anti-Muslim statements that Trump has made.
Trump had proposed a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. After that plan was criticized by Republicans and Democrats, Trump’s campaign amended it, saying immigration should be suspended from countries “compromised by terrorism.”
But in December, Trump suggested that he’s standing by the proposal he talked about on the campaign trail in 2015.
Trump has made only vague statements to the media about the possibility of creating a database of Muslims in the United States. Those statements also don’t draw a distinction between a database of all Muslims in the country and one tabulating only Muslim immigrants.
On Nov. 19, 2015, for instance, a Yahoo News reporter asked the GOP’s then-front-runner about registering Muslims in a database or noting their religion on IDs. Trump said, “We’re going to have to look a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
When NBC News asked him about the issue again the following day, Trump said he “would certainly implement” a database of Muslims in the country.
“There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems,” he told NBC News.
Asked whether Muslims would be required to sign into the database, he said, “They have to be — they have to be.”
Shortly afterward, Trump disputed reports that he had endorsed the idea of creating a database for Muslims.
In December, his campaign released a statement stating, “President-elect Trump has never advocated for any registry or system that tracks individuals based on their religion, and to imply otherwise is completely false.”
The president-elect’s choices for attorney general, CIA director and national security adviser also raised fears among Muslim civil rights groups and current and former government officials that the appointments could reinforce perceptions that the United States is at war with Islam itself, The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick and Abigail Hauslohner wrote.
In creating the PSA, Tanimura said, they decided to, literally, draw a parallel between past and present by having the same person tell the same story from a different time period.
The directors knew they needed to find two people: a person who actually lived in a Japanese internment camp and a Muslim actress who would tell that person’s story in the film.
Casting an actress who is Muslim was a must, to give the PSA some “sense of authenticity,” Nackashi said. “People would see her face and they pick up slightly that she might be Middle Eastern or Arabic.”
Tanimura said she found Kuromiya, who turns 90 this month, through a friend whose mother is heavily involved with the Japanese American community in the Los Angeles area. She found Khan, the actress, after seeing her perform in a short film.
The directors said it took about a month to make the PSA. Most of that time was devoted to creating the prosthetic make-up — which essentially involved building an Asian woman’s features on Khan’s face.
Over the past few days since the PSA came out, Nackashi said, they’ve heard from people who appreciate the message and also from some who doubt the link they’re trying to draw between Japanese internment camps and Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“People want to, of course, point out that those are very different,” Nackashi said. “We’re happy to acknowledge that there’s some difference.”