know your rights

Fiona Apple on the Election, What Scares Her, and Her Anti-ICE Short Film

Photo: Fiona Apple

Back in September, Fiona Apple spoke with Vulture about how furious and frustrated she was with the Trump administration’s inhumane immigration policies. Today, we’re exclusively premiering a new animated short film narrated by Apple — in partnership with We Have Rights, Brooklyn Defender Services, and WITNESS — about how anyone can safely and securely document arrests by ICE to hold the agency accountable for its actions. Despite the pandemic, ICE is still raiding homes to detain and deport immigrants, some of whom have lived in the U.S. for their entire lives. The short film (it’s only two and a half minutes, and is also available with Spanish narration by activist Erika Andiola) is full of useful information and tools to help both immigrants and bystanders deter and challenge ICE arrests wherever and whenever they see them unfolding. Before the short’s premiere, we called up Apple to talk about why she got involved, what she personally learned while working on the film, and how she feels about the upcoming election.

Tell me how you first got involved with this project.
[Brooklyn Defender Service’s] Scott Hechinger, again! I did the recording for the video on that same day I got my [bolt cutter] tattoo. I felt like that was really meaningful, to me. I think this video is absolutely essential. When I was reading the script, I felt really lucky to be able to read it aloud and learn it. It’s such valuable information. Everybody can help out. This is horrible shit that ICE is doing. They’re trapping people and separating people, now at these hotels — there’s no way to track anybody. People are just losing their kids. There’s no situation where people should be without their parents or their lawyers.

ICE agents are fucking scary. I think so many people want to help and they don’t know how. They feel like they have no way of helping. But if you’ve got eyes, ears, a notepad, and a pencil, you can help. But you have to know the rules to be able to help. You might be trying to help and film an immigrant or their family member, and you end up hurting them. Just film the badges, the street signs. Or maybe you don’t make a copy of the film. Or know that you need a six-digit pass code in order to exercise our Fifth Amendment right — we need to stop with the fingerprint and face recognition. Or [know] that you have to keep on filming. Don’t stop filming! And saving the unedited version so you can go back and see all the facts. It’s all such valuable information. Getting that info and learning it, for me, at least, makes me feel equipped to help. At least I feel like a basic level of “Okay, if something happened around me, I could be of use. I can take out my phone or use my mind and write things down. I can at least bear witness.”

Yeah, I was surprised how much I learned from the video that I didn’t realize I didn’t already know.
They’re horrible. And [ICE] is abusing people. They’re assaulting women. I think I read that they’ve had, over six years, something like 14,000 reports of sexual assaults. It’s insane. The whole thing about them keeping kids in these hotels, it’s like, “But they’re not in cages.” But it’s not better. They’re little kids. They have these people supposedly trained in kids and trauma. But fuck that. You could give these jobs to social workers. But they want to keep all the money for themselves: “No, we’ll train our own assholes to do it.”

I can’t believe this is happening. There’s so many awful things going on in this country. You read about places like Belarus and they’re like, “They teargassed the crowd and arrested people and disappeared people.” But that’s the same shit that’s happening here now. It’s going to hell.

It’s really awful.
The way we’re treating our immigrant friends…We stole this country in the first place. But after that, the only way we’re Americans is the degree to which we’re helping immigrants. Because we were immigrants! Fuck you, Donald Trump. Your ancestors were immigrants, supposedly fleeing religious persecution. But now, seeking asylum because you’re being persecuted is not deemed a necessary reason to travel. Anyway. All of this stuff just makes you feel so fucking helpless. What do I do? I just want to run head into people and just fucking pound things with my fists. But this video makes me feel like, “Okay. I can be the cool one, I can be silent, I can stand there and say, ‘I have a right to document this.’” I know what to do. At least there’s that. And I do feel like a lot of people, if they watch this video, it will make a difference. They’ll feel empowered. I really think that there’s a lot of people right now sitting on their couches watching the news going, “What the fuck can I do to help stop this?” And this is, right now, the best we can do as civilians.

What was the most surprising thing that you learned while filming the short, things that were illegal or legal that you weren’t aware of?
The thing that I just remembered, which gave me chills, is when I had to say: “This is all scary.” And, “Sometimes ICE will not comply.” The fact that they’re really scary dudes. Who are they? They must have failed the fucking psych test to be a police officer and now they’re in charge of kids and women. These are scary guys. But the things that really made me feel good was just the information: Ah, yes, I should not film the faces of my immigrant neighbor. I shouldn’t say his name, or anything about him and his family. I should just focus on those fuckers, their badges. Be nice, comply with what they do, but keep recording. Take notes. Notice things. Bear witness so that somebody doesn’t have to go through that scary situation without somebody’s eyes on them, with kindness. It’s not okay. You’ve gotta know what to do.

I’m really happy this video is finally coming out. We couldn’t find a Spanish speaker for awhile. We recorded it, and I tried to reach out to Jennifer Lopez to do it, but we didn’t hear back. [Laughs.] I was like, “Worth a try!” It’s been a perfect time for this video to come out for a while. But especially right now. This shit going on in Portland, with all of these fucking guys disappearing people in vans. We fucking need to know our rights. We need to. Otherwise, we’re just all without protection. We need to protect ourselves and each other.

Absolutely. How do you feel about the election? Are you hopeful? Scared?
I’m really scared about this mail thing. That’s fucking nuts to me. Taking mailboxes?! I’m scared about that. I’m scared and appalled at the Republican lawyer trying to help out Kanye. That’s low. I really hate them for how they’re treating him, you know? And how they’re taking advantage of him to try and stay in power. They’re not helping him. I feel hopeful, but I also feel like Trump’s just going to do anything he can to stay in office, if for no other reason than he knows he’s gonna have to go to fucking jail. Boy, would I love to see that. Hope he fixes the fucking prison system before he goes to jail.

Or not.
[Laughs.] Let’s keep the old ways intact just for him.

Well, thanks for catching up. I’m really glad you made this video.
The video itself is three minutes long. It’s like a song. This is the length of a song. There’s so many fucking new songs coming out. Everyone’s listening to them all the time. Check out this new hot song of the week! Check out this new song from Brooklyn Defenders! Everybody learn the fucking lyrics to this song, and sing it every day! [Laughs.] 

The new single from Fiona Apple.
“Know Your Rights.” Maybe I will. I got my recording set up again, so maybe I’ll do a little version. I’ll just sing the whole thing.

Are you working on anything, or just recording for fun?
Just for fun. I was working on something but I can’t talk about it yet. But it was all set up again, so I was just like, “Oh, this is fun.” I have my little hand drums. Recording is really good for practicing. I don’t like to practice, but I’ll practice if I’m recording.

Fiona Apple on Trump, What Scares Her, and Her Anti-ICE Film