Documentary illustrates LGBTQ refugees’ struggle for acceptance.
The absorbing documentary “Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America” focuses on the world’s asylum and refugee situation from a woefully overlooked angle: the journeys of LGBTQ people escaping violent persecution in their homelands and starting anew in the United States.
As it turns out, America offers its own set of formidable challenges, even in a place as welcoming as the Bay Area, the main arena of director Tom Shepard’s intimate film, which can be streamed through July 13.
Shepard’s decadeslong documentary career, including the Sundance Film Festival award winner “Scout’s Honor,” has consistently been rooted in the journalistic principle of human interest, shedding light on complicated issues by telling highly relatable personal stories.
“Unsettled” is no exception, introducing us to four refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa who have come to America just before the political ascendance and antiimmigration fervor of President Trump. There is the camerafriendly Subhi, a gay man from wartorn Syria, who has fled death threats from the Islamic State; Cheyenne and Mari, an appealing lesbian couple from Angola, who have endured endless harassment back home; and the gendernonconforming Junior, from the Congo, who has homophobic relatives who believe that LGBTQ people should be put to death.
In less than 90 minutes, “Unsettled” must cover a lot of ground: the perils of the refugees’ past, their personal ups and downs once in America, the tireless advocates who help the dislocated, the costofliving problems that make the tolerant Bay Area less than an ideal haven, and the national political turmoil that threatens to derail the refugees’ lives.
Yet Shepard always keeps things on track, and his wellpaced, beautifully scored film makes us see San Francisco in an atypical light as welcoming and beautiful, yes, but also bewildering, lonely and intimidating. Indeed, though all the refugees make varying degrees of progress, we can’t help but feel that a rocky road still lies ahead for them.
Junior (left), Mari, Cheyenne and Subhi, who escaped the homophobia of their home countries, cope with fresh obstacles as they start new lives in America.