Like many Idahoans before her, when Karen Day visited the Minidoka landmark where thousands of Japanese Americans were interned during World War II, it was an emotional and life-changing moment. But what distinguishes Day from the rest of us is that she happens to be a superb filmmaker, and when she's inspired, an equally inspiring film usually follows.
"I was making a film called Destination Idaho at the time," said Day, referring to her 2015 documentary chronicling the Gem State's people, places and history. "That's when I visited Minidoka for the first time. As an American, I struggled to express my feelings and my shame at my ignorance of this moment in our history."
When she toured the state in 2016 to host screenings of Destination Idaho—which included scenes of Minidoka and dozens of other must-see spots—Day said, "The No. 1 comment from older folks was, 'I didn't know there was an internment camp in Idaho.' And the No. 1 comment from younger people was, 'I didn't know that Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.'"
Three years later, Day had crafted Bamboo and Barbed Wire, a gripping new feature-length doc and by far her finest film to date. Featuring rarely seen archival documents, photos and film footage—and eye-popping cameos from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and actor George Takei—Bamboo and Barbed Wire will be presented Friday, April 12, at Boise's Egyptian Theatre.
"Well, RBG is a cross-generational hero. Love that girl," Day said when asked about the cameos, adding that her previous film projects led her to a producer who, in turn, led Day to Ginsburg. "I know that RBG's considered by many conservatives to be a 'liberal icon' and her appearance might cause them to stop listening. But I want this film to speak to everyone, no matter their belief systems, about the human cost of racial discrimination."
Much of the world knows Takei from his wildly popular portrayal of Sulu in Star Trek from the '60s-'90s. But many don't know that when Takei was a child, his family was among the 100,000-plus Japanese Americans forced into concentration camps, like the one at Minidoka, in the western U.S. during WWII. Takei is currently filming a new TV mini-series, The Terror: Infamy, executive-produced by Oscar-winner Ridley Scott and coincidentally set in a Japanese internment camp. Between scenes, Takei took a moment to heap some praise on Day's new film.
"Bamboo and Barbed Wire is a turbulent narrative of America under stress—past and present," said Takei. "The echo of the past is sharply audible still today as the film records the anguish of those impacted by the Muslim travel ban."
Indeed, Bamboo and Barbed Wire bridges the atrocities of the WWII-era Japanese American internment camps and today's hyper-charged anti-Muslim rhetoric from the Trump White House. Appropriately, the film shifts from the 1940s to 2019 when it introduces viewers to Lubna al Aboud, a Syrian refugee and senior at Boise's Capital High School.
"[Trump] is the President of the United States. We respect him. We don't hate him. We're guests of the United States," al Aboud says in the film. "But in all of his interviews, he says, 'No Muslims. We don't want Muslims.'"
Also on screen, Ginsburg cautions that the U.S. is at a crossroads and is at tremendous risk of repeating an ugly chapter of its own history.
"Some terrible things have happened in the United States. When I grew up, at the time of World War II, the irony was that we were fighting a war against racism," says Ginsburg. "Yet, by an executive order from the President of the United States, people who had done nothing wrong were interned. That was a dreadful mistake. It was a long time for the United States to realize how dreadful it was."
As if Bamboo and Barbed Wire weren't already a powerhouse, the film culminates with a performance of the 1960's anthem "Change is Gonna Come," gloriously sung by Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise) and the New Heart Church Choir. It's a goosebump-inducing moment (and you may want to have an extra tissue ready) when she sings:
"It's been a long time coming. / But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will."