America has a lot of nerve trying to stop refugees and asylum seekers. This land that the United States of America stands on was stolen from the Indigenous population and a good half of that stolen land was worked by African-Slaves. In short, every single non-indigenous person in this country is the offspring of immigrants, period, end of the sentence.
So with the new administration sitting in the White House this recent venomous turn against immigration in a nation —literally — built on immigrants (on stolen land) — and the deaf ear turned to the desperate flight from crippling poverty and fierce persecution in the “greatest country on earth” — these ironies are not lost on the young refugees featured in the new documentary “Unsettled” by director Tom Shepard (“Scout’s Honor”).
Here Shepard turns his lens on four new LGBTQ arrivals who’ve each escaped mortal danger in their native countries just for being gay.
Their journies started before the current Trump administration started clamping down so it’s a bit dated. However, it does provide a fascinating look at how people struggle there and here in this new era of immigration in the new millennium.
LGBTQ people in many countries live under constant fear of being murdered which is approved by society and is often government-approved. In Syria, in the town that Subhi lived Al-Queda established itself firmly and immediately began kidnapping, torturing, and in some cases, killing gay men. This is Subhi’s reality. He fleed to Turkey after he was threatened by an ex-friend who summarized by that by killing him he would — “secure his place in heaven” marking it an “honor killing” by exterminating, his “friend” Subhi.
In the Congo, Junior is the pastor’s son where homosexuality is culturally taboo but legal. Despite that legal status he experienced repeated verbal and physical assaults, including while in police custody.
Angola is where lesbian couple Cheyenne and Mari were “under siege” by neighbors where their dog was killed and one of their mothers attempted to poison them.
It’s important to highlight (again) that immigration and the White House’s stance toward refugees have dramatically changed. Subhi and Junior petitioned for and won, refugee status from the United Nations, with permission to permanently resettle in the U.S.
But Cheyenne and Mari were granted only temporary visas; to remain, they need Homeland Security to grant them asylum status, a challenge since approximately two-thirds of such applicants are denied.
Are there happy endings to each of these stories? The filmmaker shows it raw. For the handsome Subhi, he connects with a strong sponsor in the Bay Area, gets a good job, and becomes a high-profile face of activism focused on fighting global LGBTQ persecution.
Mari and Cheyenne stay strong because they have each other. It’s important to highlight this fact because their lives were instable with them almost living in an odd limbo.
Junior, whose looks are unique has a more challenging journey being asked to move — a lot — often in very dangerous neighborhoods. His skill level is low, his relationships (including a couple of men who promised him a place to live) don’t pan out, and he barely admits to having an alcohol problem. He’s a mess. In his first year, he moved 10 times, and at one point was living in a homeless shelter.
To add to the drama, all four are in the Bay Area with its impossible housing market, where the line between the “have” and the “have nots” is crystal clear.
“Unsettled” (81 minutes) focuses on the ugly side of America without even knowing it. We get another glimpse of the newly installed President Trump being his ugly, hateful self, again, bragging that he’ll make refugees from war-torn Syria “go back” to that country.
It also lets Americans understand how horrible things are for others. Yes, the United States of America is a country filled to the brim with problems but for the four protagonists if they had stayed “home” they would
have been murdered.
“Unsettled” – 81 MIN. Directed by Tom Shepard. With: Subhi Nahas, Cheyenne, Mari, Junior, Fred Hertz, Melanie Nathan, Samantha Power, Neil Grundas, Kathlyn Queruben, Mark Averett.
“Unsettled” — Seeking Refuge in America airs on WORLD Channel via local PBS stations – June 28 (and on WorldChannel.org from June 28-July 12)