This post was originally published in January 2021.
We’re living in a time of increased global mobility with people crossing borders for a variety of reasons. Some moves are less glamorous than others and we can’t pretend that access and passport privilege don’t play a role. In some harrowing cases, the desire for stability, safety and a better life pushes individuals to make the difficult choice to leave home.
In recent years, more documentaries have turned their cameras on the issues surrounding Black migration. The films below examine the impact of migration at both the micro and the macro level. These documentaries all focus on migration from differing perspectives, locations and rationales. While all cover heavy subject matter, most run under an hour and pack enough punch to get you thinking.
Life Between Borders: Black Migrants in Mexico (2017)
Often when immigration is discussed at the US border, little are aware of the growing number of Black migrants who are making the perilous journey. Ebony Bailey, a filmmaker from central California, highlights the experiences of Haitians who are stuck at the border as well as Africans living in Mexico City. Bailey, who is a self-described ‘Blaxican’ (the daughter of an African-American father and a Mexican mother) showcases with care Black stories that are often left out of the conversation.
Language: Spanish / Subtitles: English
This Land (2020)
From the perspective of first and second generation Irish, this documentary examines identity, racism and imigration as they offer their personal perspectives on Ireland’s changing landscape. Dublin-based Zithelo Bobby Mthombeni, who immigrated to the country as a young child, engages a variety of subjects including artists, journalists and musicians to showcase the tapestry. The documentary also explores Direct Provision, Ireland’s controversial asylum seeker program and its impact on those seeking refugee status. While this film isn’t solely about Black experiences, This Land unpacks what it means to be Irish in the 2020s.
Afro-Sampas focuses on three African artists who meet with Brazillian musicians to find commonality and nuance while living in Sao Paulo. While the focus is on music, it provides a lovely background as each of the African artists, hailing from Mozambique, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively, offer observations on the new African immigrant experience in a country that has had limited experience until recently.
Language: Portuguese / Subtitles: English, Italian
For the past few years, the news headlines have been besieged with often tragic stories of Black migrants leaving Africa with the hope of a better life in Europe. Revenir follows the personal account of Kumut Imesh, an Ivorian man, who fled his homeland in 2004, as he returns to the continent to retrace his journey and give an up close view of what migrants go through crossing borders. Revenir is an emotional yet unflinching story that few of us have seen in such an intimate manner.
Language: French, English / Subtitles: English, Italian
Chez Jolie Coiffure (2018)
Black hair salons, like barber shops, have long been a place of community, gossip and quasi therapy. In Chez Jolie Coiffure, Cameroonian-Belgian filmmaker Rosine Mbakam provides a beautiful snapshot of African immigrant life in Brussels within the confines of a small salon, run by a Cameroonian named Sabine. Shot completely within the walls of the salon, this documentary delivers on the day to day stories of West African women as they share banter on everything from giving romantic advice, navigating immigration rules and reminisce on life back home.
Language: French/ Subtitles: English