Living in the UK, it can’t be said we have much of a ‘problem’ with immigrants from South/Central America, although as Brexit has shown – which was largely fuelled by a fear of mass immigration from Eastern Europe – issues with ugly xenophobia pretending it isn’t xenophobia is a problem across the First World (in fact across pretty much the whole world).
Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer In Rural America opens with Donald Trump’s hideous rhetoric about Mexican rapists and calls to build a border wall that Mexico is apparently going to pay for, before introducing us to Moises Serrano, who was born in Mexico but was brought to the US when he was a toddler, and now lives in rural North Carolina. Now in his 20s and despite the fact he was so small when he came to the United States, he is undocumented. That means he’s not just barred from many basic benefits naturalised citizens get, but when the documentary opens he’s potentially at risk of being deported to a country he hasn’t been in since he was two-years-old.
I have to say I’m rarely genuinely shocked, but the idea that a supposedly modern country could even think of doing something so unconscionable as deport someone to a country they have no memory of was genuinely shocking to me.
Moises is also gay, something else that adds to his ‘outsider’ status and ensures he’s barred from even more rights that others have. However while, as the documentary shows, many undocumented people by necessity try to keep off the radar as much as possible, Moises has gone the opposite route, campaigning and talking to various groups about the issues of illegal immigrants, using his personal story to help give the issue a human face. It also shows the fact he’s living through a time of change, with President’s Obama’s decision to give a path to citizenship to those who came to America before they were 16, the Supreme Court opening marriage to gay people, and the inevitable anti-gay and anti-immigrant backlash that causes.
These changes also help open up the possibility for Moises to attend university, something that wouldn’t have previously been possible. However, he’s still not entitled to in-state tuition help, which would bring the cost within a reachable range, and so has to rely on getting a huge scholarship in order to be able to attend. Once more the documentary smartly points out how short-sighted so many policies surrounding immigration are, and how the US is losing out on billions of dollars of productivity by not allowing undocumented young people – many of whom will have been through the US school system, but are almost certainly not from families that are rolling in money – equal access to higher education.
Moises is a pretty inspiring figure and the documentary that surrounds him is a fascinating watch, using him as a focus to explore the issues facing undocumented and LGBT people. It’s one of those films that makes you so mad about the issues it talks about that it makes you want to do something. It’s incredibly smart that in the credits it gives US citizens a simple way to do just that by contacting their elected representatives to show their support for immigration reform, to counteract the fact those against it are often more vocal.
I do have a concern that it’s the sort of documentary that could end up preaching only to the choir, purely because getting those who ought to watch – those who don’t already agree that the situation concerning immigrants is totally screwed up – will be tough. Thankfully though it is the sort of film, with a very human story at its core, that has the potential to change hearts and minds. That includes having the potential to inspire those who agree with its principles but normally sit quietly in the corner to actually to do something to help bring about change, which can only be a good thing.
Overall Verdict: Forbidden powerfully puts a human – and queer – face on the issues of immigration in the US, and some of it may prove quite shocking to those who aren’t intimately familiar with the issues facing undocumented people. It’s an inspiring watch and well worth seeking out.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac