The Eleven Films About Refugees You Need To See

They're less depressing than the real thing.

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The Eleven Films About Refugees You Need To See


Here in Australia, refugees are in the news every single day, thanks to our government’s soul-crushingly draconian policies against asylum seekers who arrive by boat. But it’s not just a local phenomenon: as recent headlines attest, we’re in the middle of a global refugee crisis. Right now, there are some 50 million people displaced from their homes by war and political upheaval, in all corners of the world. We’re living in what Chilean playright and human-rights activist Ariel Dorfman calls “the age of the refugee.”

Feel sad and helpless about this? Instead of turning the channel and trying to forget about it like a lot of people do, maybe we need to find a constructive way to address the issue. And what more universal way is there to provoke some thought and start a conversation than a good film?

Obviously movies can’t take the place of meeting refugees and talking to them (and wherever you live, they’re not far away, despite the shady things your government is probably doing to try and stop them). But it’s a start. So here are eleven films about the refugee experience, selected with the hope that instead of making you feel even more down about it, they’ll inspire you to learn more and maybe take some real action.

These films span decades and come from all over the world, and they’re all different in style, ranging from hyperrealism to lush melodrama to science fiction – with a Hollywood classic thrown in for good measure. But watch a few of them and you’ll start to see connecting points in the narratives: the violence at home, the soldiers entering villages or neighbourhoods, the questions from police, the dangerous things people will do to cross borders. The discomfort, the waiting, the question of whether to trust people smugglers, the life savings pulled out of jars or sewed into clothing; the awful moral choices and sacrifices many of us can’t begin to imagine.

Okay, so in general this isn’t light viewing. But films about refugees get right to the heart of the human condition, because they’re about people who have nothing at all and face elemental struggles. Through the trouble and despair, they allow filmmakers to show us hope and courage in organic ways that sometimes resonate more than the average flick. Mind you, there’s also a fair share of optimism and joy – and even some comedy – to be found here.

There are plenty of excellent documentaries about refugees, of course, but we’ll save that for another list. The point of these eleven films is that fiction gives us emotional connections and insights that docos can’t.

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