The life of a refugee is hard. It is even harder when the refugees are LGBTQ persons. In Tom Shepard’s documentary Unsettled, we meet four of these asylum seekers as the begin their time in the US.
Subhi is a gay man from Syria, whose life has been threated many times by Islamic extremists and has been beaten by his father. Mari and Cheyenne are a lesbian couple from Angola who faced harassment from family and neighbors. Junior is an HIV-positive gender-fluid man from the Congo. His mother is a pastor who believes that gays should be killed. They are all resettled in the San Francisco area. That may be a haven from LGBTQ people, but it is also a very expensive place to try to restart one’s life.
As the film progresses we see Subhi grow into a role of spokesperson for LGBTQ immigrants’ rights. He speaks to the UN Security Council and testifies before the US Congress. We follow Mari and Cheyenne as they try to deal with the process of seeking asylum—finding a lawyer who will handle their case pro bono, and dealing with the forms and hearings to be accepted for asylum in this country. We also see the trials that Junior faces issues with housing and substance abuse.
The film doesn’t just show us the good side of their progress. Certainly, Subhi’s story seems fairly inspiring as he becomes something of a political poster child for the issue. But as we watch Junior move from house to house to street to shelter, seemingly without support or friends, and know that much of his problems have been brought on by himself, we know that just getting to the US is not a panacea.
Of course, the stories all become more complicated when Donald Trump is elected president, having declared about refugees, “They’re going back.” The film reminds us that since the Second World War, America has been a leader in accepting refugees. It also tells us that under the current administration, the number of refugees allowed to enter the US has dropped by 70% to the lowest level in history.
But those political considerations become the background as we are given the personal stories of these four people as they face the trials of trying to establish themselves in a new land. It is important to note that these are personal stories. These are not abstractions of immigrants and refugees. These are people who have suffered and are looking for a chance to live their lives in security and happiness. Political considerations are almost always in the realm of the abstract. Unsettled gives us real people and asks us to care for them.
Unsettled is available on World Channel via local PBS stations and WorldChannel.org