Review by Sean Boelman
Dealing with a multitude of issues that affect modern society, Tom Shepard’s documentary Unsettled is emotional in more ways than one. Exploring an issue in the LGBTQ community that some may not have even recognized as being so urgent, this doc can serve as an eye-opening discussion-starter.
The film tells the story of a group of refugees from Africa and the Middle East who fled to America in search of political refuge, hoping to escape the persecution they face because of their sexual orientation. It’s not an easy watch, but a riveting one at that because of the heft and importance of the material.
There are three main storylines in the movie, and one of Shepard’s greatest successes here is that he is able to balance them surprisingly equally. By letting these people tell their own story rather than inundating the audience with facts and figures about refugees, Shepard has created an authentic and human portrait of the issue.
Much of the film takes the form of interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage featuring these four subjects (two individuals and a couple), and it’s an effective way of telling this story. It is important for the audience to hear the power and hurt of their stories from their own mouths, as it makes the movie feel all the more honest.
At under an hour and a half long, Shepard obviously isn’t able to talk about all of the implications that this crisis has on the global LGBTQ community, but by examining these case studies, he calls attention to what are some of the most pressing problems to which they are tied.
It’s disappointing to think that we live in a world where someone’s sexual orientation can be persecuted, much less criminalized, but that is the sad truth. In a month that is typically dedicated to celebrating the (relatively newfound) freedoms of the community in America, it is also important to discuss how others who don’t have that ability can achieve that themselves.
The message of the film here is one of compassion and empathy. This movie is aimed at a target audience of people who are not likely affected directly by these issues. And yet, by recognizing the problem, Americans have the potential to make a legitimate positive change in the world that has impact beyond that.
Unsettled offers a new perspective on pressing issues, promising to take the discussion in a new (and heartbreaking) direction. Hopefully more voices such as the ones showcased in the film will get a chance to speak up about their experiences.
Unsettled makes its broadcast debut on June 28 on WORLD Channel (via local PBS stations), with a streaming run to follow from June 28-July 12 on WORLD Channel and PBS.org.