Unsettled: Seeking refuge in America
Directed by Tom Shepard
Tom Shepard’s internationally award-winning documentary Unsettled: Seeking refuge in America opens with screaming and yelling and it quickly becomes apparent that a crowd are turning violent towards a young gay African male. The sentiment that ‘love is love’ does not ring true in the 70 odd countries where it is illegal to be lesbian, gay or transgendered. In fact, in four of these countries, if you are anything but heteronormative it is likely to be a death sentence.
The documentary follows the story of four LGBTQ asylum seekers fleeing persecution and mortal danger to San Francisco and attempting to start their own lives in the shadow of what they needed to leave behind – including family members who are violent and see nothing wrong with persecuting their children often under the guise of religion and culture.
Subhi Nahas left Syria when, in 2012, Al Qaeda affiliated groups targeted and killed young gay men, causing him to flee to Lebanon and then later Turkey where even former friends turned ISIS members threatened to kill him. Partners from Angola, Cheyenne Adriano and Mari N’Timansieme, had to leave after a family member tried to poison their food fleeing to the US first on student visas and having to apply for asylum from within the US which has its own complexity. Junior Mayema’s mother preaches against homosexuality in the Democratic Republic of Congo where violence is often used against gay members of society, and when harassed by the police UN decided to expedite his application for asylum.
Shot over four years it is clear that they are not alone in their journey to settle in the US, yet it is very difficult. Refugee and asylum advocates assist them in trying to not only find their place in their new home but to also navigate the inevitable bureaucratic process of seeking asylum – including the transition from Obama to the Trump administration. Since 2016 only an estimated 30% of asylum applications are successful so for Cheyenne and Mari it is a particularly harrowing time. As Junior experiences, even with an asylum visa it’s still not easy navigating life in a new country especially faced with the possibility of homelessness.
Unsettled: Seeking refuge in America is a tale of constant struggle and survival, but it is also a tale of hope that is offered in a new land that – for now – allows them to stay true to themselves.