Kornhaber: Do you want to talk about any specific examples of political pop that rub you the wrong way?
Arulpragasam: I encourage people becoming politicized. And women being more empowered. But the idea of female empowerment in America excludes the women who are exposed to the heavily militarized Sri Lankan state, who are raping and murdering. Sri Lankan women are not invited to that conversation about feminism and uprising and empowerment, because that conversation is being held in America. When will these women get brought to the table to join in that conversation? How do we open up that discussion so it doesn’t only include shiny Hollywood girls?
Kornhaber: Do you worry it’s going to be even harder to get Westerners to care about these issues when all eyes are on the crises in America under Trump?
Arulpragasam: They need to understand the root of Donald Trump: not being conscious of your effect on the world, and not being conscious that you have been living the good life the last 20 years and that the wars across the world have helped the American economy. Greed is what put Donald Trump there. The obsession with our celebrity culture is what put Donald Trump there. All of these things are what we champion in the mainstream—through movies, through music, through the news.
Everyone has to be more conscious of what we support. You don’t like refugees; you don’t like immigrants? Well, stop creating them!
Kornhaber: Do you take inspiration from any figures in musical history who’ve changed public opinion with their work?
Arulpragasam: Back in the day, I romanticized American artists who worked together through music to change the culture to oppose the Vietnam War. I don’t think that’s happened since. It’d be a beautiful thing if that could happen again, to where citizens are that empowered and artists encourage change. But that’s real change, where you can actually stop people from dying and not look after the interests of just America.
Now [the U.S. government is] talking about getting rid of the International Criminal Court. And that’s what [the international community] told the Tamils was the solution: Don’t worry. Just lose, just die, and then spend 10 years trying to get somebody convicted in the criminal court. Then, boom, out of nowhere Trump comes in and says, That thing is bullshit. So we’re left with nothing. This is why Americans and my fans need to know that everything is connected.
Kornhaber: The documentary is such a personal story, delving into your life and your family. Is that personal approach the best way to get people to care about big issues?
Arulpragasam: What happened to [the] Tamils is a collective experience. It’s not just an individual experience. But right now, discussing individual experiences has become trendy in America. So even when documenting human-rights violations by the Sri Lankan government, we had to reduce it to talking about it on a personal level: [This person] from this little village was raped by the Sri Lankan government and here’s her particular story. You have to isolate the experience in order to communicate to the West, because, at the moment, that’s how they’re engaged in the rest of the world. Whether you’re a girl from Saudi Arabia who can drive, a girl from Pakistan who’s wanting to wear a short dress on Instagram, a trans girl in New York, or a woman who’s pro-abortion in South America, you cannot be a movement. You have to reduce it to personal stories.