Who: Samantha Power, Ari Shapiro, Tom Shepard, Subhi Nahas
What: Free screening and live Q&A of Unsettled (Tom Shepard, 2019)
Where: WORLD Channel and ITVS
When: Monday, June 22, free with advance RSVP, 7:00
Why: “I just want to live a normal life,” Junior Mayema says in Tom Shepard’s heart-wrenching documentary Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America. In honor of the UN’s World Refugee Day, which took place on June 20, the film is being streamed on June 22 at 7:00, followed by a Q&A with producer-director Shepard, former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro, and one of the film’s subjects, Subhi Nahas, a Syrian refugee who has unexpectedly become a spokesman for LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.
In the film, Shepard (Scout’s Honor, The Grove) follows the agonizing plight of several LGBTQ people who have escaped dangerous situations in their homeland to try to make a new, safer life in the United States, but obstacles abound. “I was always the black sheep, I was always the outcast. I think most gay people in Syria felt the same: isolation, people mocking them. And it’s been a lonely place for twenty-five years,” Subhi says. He left Syria shortly after an al-Qaeda branch began terrorizing gay people in his hometown in 2012; as he becomes a leader in the gay refugee movement, he is determined to get his sister out as well.
Cheyenne Adriano and Mari N’Timansieme are partners in love, music, and business, attempting to gain asylum through legal channels after their lives were jeopardized first in their native Angola, then in Capetown, South Africa. “Being kicked out by the people you most love and trust, I have this anger in my heart,” Cheyenne says. “At least here, we’re not going to have people stalking us, or following us, or throwing rocks, or calling us names on the street. I think this doesn’t happen here in America, right?”
Junior, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has the most difficulty making the transition, having trouble finding a job, friends, and a place to sleep. While Subhi, Cheyenne, and Mari are driven by very specific goals, Junior is lost, his life further disrupted by his alcoholism. Among those offering support to the four of them are various professionals, officials, and volunteers, including Powers, refugee and asylum advocate Melanie Nathan, refugee sponsor Fred Hertz, director of refugee services Amy Weiss, LGBT refugee advocate Neil Grungras, and attorney Kathlyn Querubin, but the road is not an easy one, for any of them.
The film is especially relevant given several recent developments in the USA, with the Supreme Court declaring that gay, lesbian, and transgender workers are covered by antibias laws and ruling on cases involving legal and illegal immigration. LGBTQ refugees come to America, fleeing countries where their sexual orientation might not only be against the law but is punishable by death, yet they still have to go through a complex system in order to gain asylum here. It’s a harrowing journey that does not always have a happy ending, even in San Francisco, and now under the current administration. After the free screening and live discussion on June 22, the documentary will be available for streaming on the WORLD channel and PBS from June 28 to July 12.