Someone Like Me- The challenges of queer solidarity in Vancouver

In the documentary Someone Like Me, when a queer group of strangers unite to support a gay Ugandan man seeking asylum in Canada, unexpected challenges lead them down an emotional road together in search of personal freedom. | Photo courtesy of NFB

Drake, a 22-year-old gay man from Uganda, leaves his country behind. In Canada, he is welcomed by a group of strangers from Vancouver’s queer community united under the banner of Rainbow Refugee, a non-profit that connects LGBTQ+ asylum claimants with sponsors. Someone Like Me, a documentary released in 2021 by the directing duo Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams, tells his story. It is part of the line-up from the 2021 edition of DOXA Documentary Film Festival.

“We wanted to make this film to show that it’s possible for one person to move the needle on issues like the global refugee crisis or the persecution of queer people around the world in a concrete and meaningful way,” explains Horlor.

Empathy for refugees

For the directors, one of the takeaways they hope people get from the film is a greater sense of empathy for asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants. For queer people who live in one of the 70 plus countries around the world where they can be imprisoned or murdered because of their sexuality or gender identity, it can be difficult to escape to a country like Canada, Adams points out.

“You most likely won’t be out to your family and can’t rely on them to immigrate. If you aren’t wealthy enough to get a visa and fly to a safe country, you have to get an asylum claim, and wait years for resettlement. The pandemic made this worse in many ways because the borders closed, leaving thousands of queer people trapped and in danger around the world,” he says.

“There’s this idea that once you arrive in a new country, all your problems are going to be solved the moment you touch down at the airport. That’s not true at all. It’s the start of a new chapter with all of its own challenges,” says Horlor. “As queer people, we have a responsibility to do this for other queer people whose lives are in danger”.

“In Canada, anyone – queer or straight – can start a sponsorship circle. You can also donate money to organizations like Rainbow Refugee or a similar organization in your community. Other countries are studying what we’re doing here, and we hope this film helps inspire similar programs elsewhere in the world,” Horlor says.

Drake, a queer refugee from Uganda, arrives in Vancouver full of hopes and dreams for a career in fashion, and then the pandemic hit. | Photo courtesy of NFB

Political cinema and youth dialogue on social issues

Someone Like Me will be featured online at the DOXA’s Rated Y for Youth program with the intention to foster an appreciation for cinema while also giving young audiences an opportunity to engage in open dialogue on social issues.

During times of racial reckonings, the film can be a launchpad for ongoing discussions on what effective support, solidarity and allyship could look like, both individually and collectively, according to Dharra Budicha, the festival’s programming coordinator.

Someone Like Me also bears witness to the intersectionality of issues in Drake’s new life in Vancouver: the power dynamics of care vs. personal autonomy, struggles of unemployment and economic freedom, and racial alienation,” she says. “We see Drake flee persecution in Uganda for his sexuality only to face blatant racism in Vancouver, effectively throwing a wrench into the notion that all is well once a refugee arrives in Canada.”

As the unexpected complication of a global pandemic compounded problems, the film traces the ways that the group asked themselves difficult questions about their capacity, commitment, and conditions of support.
Budicha also says that political cinema has the capacity to disrupt because it challenges norms and narratives; and it offers critical insight and thought. In her words, engaged art can change lives – viscerally, painfully, and empathetically.

Someone Like Me streams online May 6–16. The documentary will discuss how engaged communities can help the global persecution of queer people in a concrete way

For the event’s film guide, access www.doxafestival.ca

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