Richard Hanus featured in movie: “The Courtroom”

The Courtroom is a story of an immigrant’s life in the U.S. and the struggle to manage the confusing legal labyrinth our U.S. immigration system can be. Originally an Off Broadway play, The Courtroom is based entirely on verbatim transcripts of Elizabeth Keathley’s deportation proceedings and her fight to remain in the U.S. with her family. The play and now feature film, is a nonpartisan response to the harsh politicization of immigration law and demonization of immigrants taking place with increased frequency over recent years. The Courtroom speaks to the truth of an immigrant’s experience, as it presents actual events along with the very words that were spoken in legal proceedings.

the movie poster for The Courtroom

How I got involved in the movie

The summer of 2018 was one defined by anti-immigration rhetoric and a celebration of crude immigration enforcement policies. I was approached by Arian Moayed, an accomplished actor and producer and himself an immigrant, who was seeking a real transcript of a deportation proceeding to present as a stage production. By presenting one immigrant’s personal experience, Arian hoped to add a human component to the immigration conversation, and in a truthful way, since every aspect of the production was based on real world experiences and verbatim interactions. After a long series of conversations with Arian about his goals, and giving much thought to which, if any, of my immigration cases might be a good fit, we decided on the case of my client Elizabeth Keathley. With Elizabeth’s and her family’s blessing, I shared with Arian transcripts of her case, a legal fight involving multiple appeals including up to the federal court, including the U.S. Court of Appeals. After reading through this voluminous file, Arian found the story he was looking for – one that was compelling and even reminded him of his own family’s struggles navigating our immigration system and overall, life in a new land.

My Experience

I’ve never been in a movie before. And in both the play and film production, Richard Hanus is a featured character, with an actor playing me and speaking the very words I spoke while fighting for Elizabeth Keathley, and her right to remain in the United States. It was a strange experience of course, watching some of the most tense moments of your professional life, not to mention your clients’ tortured moments, presented as an artistic production and for the world to see and discuss. But, the story is powerfully inspirational is many ways, and more than anything I am proud. I am proud of the unwavering human spirit to seek justice that fueled this deportation fight and just as important, I am proud of the justice that is attainable in our great nation.

Walking the Red Carpet for the first time

First, it was a true honor to have The Courtroom feature film being chosen as an official selection for the Tribeca Film Festival.  Having the creator, Arian, director – Lee Sunday Evans, and the cast assembled together for the film’s premiere in New York City for Tribeca was beautiful on many levels – with everyone feeling the overwhelming, positive vibe that inspired the making of the film, and message it sends.  Then there are all the steps and excitement leading up to flying out to New York for the premier, including getting dressed up in a new outfit to wear on the red carpet!

Overall Thoughts

Reflecting back on Elizabeth Keathley’s deportation fight, I am so grateful that I was able to be Elizabeth’s advocate and find inspiration from the injustice she and her family were facing. For her case to then become the subject of a critically acclaimed, artistic presentation aimed at advancing good in society, takes my satisfaction to a whole other, stratospheric level. Big kudos to Elizabeth Keathley and her family for having the courage to fight and have their story told. Big kudos to Arian Moayed to take note of injustice in our world and to then have the initiative to tell a story that could prompt human compassion and just as important, compel societal change.

Waterwell’s “The Courtroom” Talkback

Join Micropolis host Arun Venugopal for a unique talkback of Waterwell’s production of The Courtroom, a site-specific play that reenacts deportation proceedings. The show features authentic text compiled from real court transcripts by Tony Award nominee Arian Moayed, co-founder of Waterwell, and directed by Obie Award winner Lee Sunday Evans, the artistic director of Waterwell.

The performance stars a cast of notable actors, including Tony Award nominee Kathleen Chalfant, four-time Obie Award winner Happy Anderson, Tony Award winner Ruthie Ann Miles, Michael Braun, Hanna Cheek, Michael Bryan French, Mick Hilgers, Linda Powell, and Kristin Villanueva.

Based on a true story, The Courtroom depicts the deportation proceedings of an immigrant from the Philippines who mistakenly registered to vote and voted after arriving in the United States on a K-3 visa in 2004. The show features verbatim court transcripts from the woman’s case, which was eventually heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Following the performance, there will be a discussion with the cast and crew.