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Films

5 powerful films on Netflix that explore the migrant crisis

Those who never had to experience the feeling of rootlessness and displacement are incredibly privileged, given how the problem crushes societies. Compelled to be destitute after being driven from their own homes and homelands for various reasons, including economic crises, socio-political conflicts or even natural disasters, the identity of these people are reduced to an umbrella term called migrants.

Traversing hundreds of miles away from home, they are never safe and are constantly subjugated and oppressed. December 18 serves as International Migrants Day to honour the struggles and plight of the migrants and to ensure a better future for them. 

While many of us, sitting in the comfort of our homes, remain unaware of the fight that is still going on in various countries, where terrorism, violence, and crimes run rampant, books and films serve as our sole source of information about migrants the fundamental human rights. Netflix has a collection of war films and films that talk about the vastness of the migrant and refugee crisis that might help us have a deeper understanding of the subject. 

Here are five such influential Netflix films that explore the migrant crisis brilliantly: 

5 powerful films on Netflix that explore the migrant crisis 

First They Killed My Father – Angelina Jolie (2017)

Set in Cambodia during the violent Vietnam War, which led to the Cambodian Civil War, young Loung Ung is forced into hiding with her family. They run the risk of being slaughtered if her father, Pa’s identity as a government official is revealed. As her family keeps getting decimated by the soldiers and her father gets taken away to meet his fated ending, she flees with her two siblings on being urged by her mother and lives as an orphan. Under the pretext of this identity, she is enrolled as a child soldier which leads her to set bombs and other traps to attack enemy lines.  

Ridden with violence and war, the film is a direct and realistic commentary on how wars ravage the lives of innocent civilians. The film’s compassionate and empathetic tone laments the predicament of the families torn apart by war, as well as the innumerable lives lost. A heartfelt exploration of subsequent trauma and devastation, Angelina Jolie is successful in bringing out the correct magnitude of emotions that help the audience connect more with the characters. 

Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga (2015)

This violent and tragic film chronicles the untimely loss of innocence amidst an African civil war. Agu is a young boy who is separated from his family and forced and manipulated into joining as a child-soldier for a guerrilla army where he is trained by a ruthless warlord.

Subject to the violent abuse, humiliation and degradation, Agu transforms from an innocent boy to a destructive, maniacal beast where he is constantly torn between the family values instilled in him versus the aggression of his new self. Starring Abraham Attah and Idris Elba, the film paints the realistic and poignant picture of the kind of life these child soldiers are subjected to amidst the atrocities of war where rape, abuse, violence and other unthinkable acts are rampant. Powerful and moving, Fukunaga does complete justice to Uzodinma Iweala’s novel by delivering a scathing, well-crafted masterpiece that is complemented by brilliant visuals and stunning performances.

Adu – Salvador Calvo (2020)

This Spanish and French drama documents the tragedy of the African refugee crisis in Europe when a six-year-old, separated from his mother, journeys from Cameroon to Spain. He crosses paths with two other  African immigrants who are struggling with their personal demons. The heartwrenching film won four Goya Awards for the film, including Best Director for Calvo. 

Adu is a difficult watch due to the terrific portrayal of the desperation for survival. With phenomenal performances, it is a poignant commentary on the idea of displacement. With violent imagery and grainy footage, and an overall pervasive sense of fear and frenzy, the film not only touches on themes of refugee crises and racism but also trophy hunting and poaching. Moustapha Oumarou, who plays the titular Adu, deserves special mention for his heartbreaking and compelling performance! 

His House – Remi Weekes (2020)

What could have been a simple horror story turns into a terrifying global story of horror and desolation in Weekes’ film that deals with the refugee and migrant crisis that plagues the world. A young Sudanese couple struggles to adapt to England after they relocate there and are made to live in a shabby townhouse while awaiting their fate. They are tied to the house due to their economic depravity; their identities are reduced to being simple migrants. Crippled by lack of finances and survivor’s guilt, the couple find themselves facing occult disturbances that they cannot escape from, shattering their hopes for a brighter tomorrow. 

Disturbing and claustrophobic, the film is a brilliant yet harrowing exploration of the refugee experience and the effect the entire ordeal has on their mental health. It is a horrifying look into the terrors that reality holds in store for these refugees and migrants who are simply aiming for a better tomorrow.  

Atlantics – Matt Diop (2019)

Diop’s story is embedded in social realism and sees a group of construction workers, deprived of what they are rightfully owed, embarking on a journey towards Spain for a better future. Among them is a young Souleiman who loves a girl named Ada, engaged to the wealthy Omar. After Omar’s mysterious death, the detective assigned to the case stumbles upon mysterious facts that go way beyond what meets the eye and hint at supernatural elements. 

The film transcends any specific genre and is a brutal exploration of the predicament and plight of economically underprivileged people and the migrant crisis. A story of undying love, rebellion and death, the film is a poetic, deep dive into the themes of love, longing, oppression, revenge and loss that culminates into a delicate yet powerful product.