Alum returns to show a documentary on international LGBT refugees and asylum
Throughout history, immigrants have traveled the world in search of a safe haven and a place to call home where they could live better lives. Abraham “AB” Troen’s ’14 film “Finding Home” showcased that by following the stories of three LGBT refugees who had immigrated to Los Angeles in search of a more accepting environment. The film screened in the Wasserman Cinematheque on Tuesday night, followed by a conversation between Troen and Prof. Alice Kelikian (FTIM) and a Q&A.
The first refugee featured in the film, Brandon, is a lawyer from Shanghai, China. He immigrated to Los Angeles because he was afraid of coming out as gay to his friends and relatives in China who did not approve of homosexuality. In Los Angeles, he works as a paralegal; even though he could have done much higher-level work in China, Brandon said he feels much safer living in the United States and would rather do lower-level work than live in fear of persecution because of his sexuality.
Another refugee is Stacy, a transgender woman from El Salvador. Stacy sought asylum in the United States after being sold into sex slavery and being rejected by her people. In Los Angeles, Stacy works as a housekeeper at a hotel and competes in beauty pageants. She says she is grateful to be safe in the United States and to have found a community among her fellow pageant contestants and hotel workers.
Elaheh, a refugee from Iran, decided to immigrate to the United States to live openly as a lesbian and pursue her dream of becoming a bodybuilder. Elaheh stated that she is overjoyed to be in a tolerant environment where she can live her ideal lifestyle.
In his conversation with Kelikian after the screening, Troen stated that the project began when he met Brandon through a global exchange program between a Chinese university and the University of Southern California, where Troen attends graduate school.
Troen then decided to find other LGBT refugees in the Los Angeles area to spotlight for a film project, which eventually became “Finding Home.”
The exchange then opened to the audience for a Q&A. Mendel Weintraub ’21 asked how making the documentary changed Troen’s perspective on the United States and if the election changed the direction of the documentary. Troen replied that making the film “opened [his] eyes to the fact that there are folks who you wouldn’t even think about getting to know … it’s visceral.”
Troen continued, “Stacy works in a hotel. How many times have you gone in a hotel and not even thought about the people who work there? … They are all undocumented immigrants, and they have this community, … they help each other out. ... Los Angeles is 35 percent immigrant, and yet, how many immigrants did I know before I made this project?” With regard to the election, Troen stated that “we were all broken that evening.” However, he said, he held a screening of the film in Arkansas, and “half the place was probably Trump supporters,” though “the theme of home, family, is something that people on all sides can connect to.”
An audience member wondered how Troen’s subjects feel about telling their stories publicly and if they are eager to share what they are going through. Troen replied that “Brandon’s story is like a coming-out. … Unlike the other two, he could get on a plane tomorrow, … but he chooses not to,” as he “does not want to come out in China.” Stacy “is excited that someone is interested in her story,” said Troen.
One audience member was a gay asylum refugee from Saudi Arabia who, like Stacy, had many of the same experiences — being sold into slavery and not being accepted. He asked if Stacy had been accepted for asylum. Troen replied that she had been accepted since the film’s recording, and the audience clapped.
During an interview with the Justice, Troen provided a closer look into how he chose his subjects and an update on their lives post-filming.
Troen said that “Stacy got her asylum and is trying to make it in Los Angeles. Brandon is trying to pass the bar exam. That’s his main goal now. He wants to settle roots here [and] improve his English. Elaheh and her partner are onto their next competition until they become Miss Olympia.”
“Finding Home” was produced by Marc Mounier and Xin Li; edited by Alvaro Parra, Yongle Wang and Elisa Oh; production sound by Mercedes San Roman; post sound by Peter Bawiec; composition by Erick Del Aguila.
—Editor’s note: Mendel Weintraub ’21 is an Arts writer for the Justice.