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Oscars 2023: Refugee films to watch this awards season

From Ke Huy Quan’s Oscar-winning performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once, to a BAFTA-nominated film on Syrian Olympians – these are the refugee films you have to watch this awards season.

L-R: Stills from Everything Everywhere All at Once © IAC Films/A24, Bazigaga © Full Dawa Films/Kibibi Productions, and The Swimmers © Netflix.

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film about a fractured immigrant family caught in a multiverse adventure, dominated this awards season. The film picked up seven Oscars, including Best Picture, and former refugee Ke Huy Quan took home the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Waymond.

Quan was eight when his family was forced to flee Vietnam by boat. They were held in a refugee camp in Hong Kong for a year before resettling in the United States. Quan is the first Vietnam-born actor to win an Oscar and his emotional acceptance speech, in which he shared his refugee story, immediately went viral.

You can watch Everything Everywhere All at Once on Binge here.

2. The Swimmers

Nominated for a BAFTA Award, The Swimmers is based on the true story of Yusra Mardini and her sister Sara Mardini, both talented swimmers from Syria with dreams of competing in the Olympics. Their lives are changed forever when war forces them to flee across the Aegean in a leaking boat. 

The film follows the sisters’ search for safety and Yusra’s journey to the 2016 Rio Olympics as part of the Refugee Olympic Team. Off screen, Yusra was appointed a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2017 and continues to advocate for the rights of refugees. Watch The Swimmers on Netflix here.

3. A House Made of Splinters

Shot before the Ukraine war began, A House Made of Splinters is an Oscar-nominated documentary that follows children at an orphanage in eastern Ukraine.

Filmed at Lysychansk, it tells the story of several children who have been abandoned and are staying in temporary accommodation. Despite the film’s tragic setting, director Simon Lereng Wilmont shows the joy these children find in their everyday existence.

Set against a foreboding backdrop, the film highlights the resilience and vulnerability of children who don’t know their home is about to be invaded.

4. Stranger at the Gate

This Oscar-nominated short documentary from The New Yorker tells the story of a former Marine, Richard “Mac” McKinney, who plans to attack a mosque in Indiana. But when he starts spending time with Muslim refugees, who welcome him to his community, his outlook changes drastically.

Director Joshua Seftel says that the Afghan refugees in his film are “true, real-life heroes.”

“At a time of division and hate, Stranger at the Gate reminds us of our shared humanity.”

5. Bazigaga

As a child, Jo Ingabire Moys witnessed the brutal murder of her family in Rwanda. Thirty years on, her BAFTA-nominated film Bazigaga represents her trauma, telling the story of two refugees who flee the genocide.

The film follows Karembe, a Tutsi pastor, and his young daughter. They are forced to seek refuge with a Hutu shaman named Bazigaga, who is inspired by a real Hutu woman named Zura Karuhimbi who saved more than 100 people.

On telling this story, Ingabire Moys says: “I hope that people understand that Rwandans also saved Rwandans. And women did an incredible thing.

“When you see African women in Western cinema, they’re not treated with much dignity. I want people to understand that Africa has a lot of heroes worth celebrating.”

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