independence films

American Dreams: ‘Problemista’ plus 6 more films about the queer immigrant experience

Image Credits, clockwise from top-left: ‘Potato Dreams Of America,’ Dark Star | ‘The Persian Version,’ Sony Pictures Classics | ‘Problemista,’ A24 | ‘I Carry You With Me,’ Sony Pictures Classics | ‘Lingua Franca,’ The Criterion Channel

Every year, the 4th of July comes around, and we’re expected to celebrate the birth of the United States Of America with fireworks, hot dogs, and unseemly amounts of red, white and blue.

But, at a time when LGBTQ+ protections are increasingly at risk—not to mention an upcoming presidential election that looks more and more dire by the day—it can feel like a contradiction to try and put on that star-spangled facade.

Those feelings are only compounded for the thousands of thousands of LGBTQ+ immigrants who call the USA home. Whether they grew up here, fled from a dangerous situation, or moved on their own accord in search of the ever-elusive American dream, our queer siblings are fighting for their right to not only survive but thrive in this country that doesn’t always love them back.

Recently, actor-comedian-filmmaker Julio Torres put his fantastical spin on the queer immigrant experience in his must-see directorial debut, Problemista. Inspired by his own story moving from El Salvador to New York City, Torres imaginatively depicts the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the U.S. immigration system that one must navigate in order to “exist” in this country to hilarious and provocative effect.

In that sense, it’s a true American fairytale. And, fittingly, Problmista just became available to stream on Max (formerly HBO Max) this past week—just in time for the 4th Of July holiday.

But Torres’ masterpiece is far from the only time the experiences of queer immigrants have been brought to the big screen. So, if you’re looking for a different way to celebrate what it truly means to be American, ring in your Independence Day with six more films that tell stories of the people who really make this country exceptional, from sea to shining sea.

A Place To Be (2017)

At its heart, the indie A Place To Be (or “En Algun Lugar”) is a romance, as two young Chicagoans fall in love over the course of a summer—even celebrating the 4th Of July together! But when undocumented Diego (Andrew Saenz) learns he’ll need to return home to Mexico to care for an ill relative, he reveals his immigration status to Abel (Nelson Rodriguez) for the first time, and the couple devise a plan to make the trip and return safely to America together. Filmmaker Tadeo Garcia based the story on true events, which took on even greater resonance as the film screened at festivals in the wake of the Trump administration’s attempts to end DACA.

Available for digital rental/purchase via Amazon Prime Video & AppleTV.

Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer In Rural America (2016)

This documentary produced by Logo follows the journey of Moises Serrano, who’s had to come out twice in his life: As a gay man, and as an undocumented immigrant. As a baby, his parents risked everything to travel to the U.S. in pursuit of the American dream, a country which Serrano learned to call home while growing up in rural South Carolina. Now an adult, he sees only one path forward: Becoming an advocate for change. In Forbidden, a camera crew travels with Serrano across the state as he fights for his own future, fights for justics, and uses his own voice to empower the many, many other just like him to use theirs.

Available for digital rental/purchase via Amazon Prime Video.

Lingua Franca (2019)

Filmmaker Isabel Sandoval writes, directs, and stars in this acclaimed drama about a trans Filipina woman named Olivia who works as a caretaker for an elderly woman with dementia (Sex And The City‘s Lynn Cohen) in Brooklyn. Living in constant fear of being detained an deported by ICE agents, Olivia shares a portion of her earnings with an American boyfriend in the hopes that he’ll help her secure a green card via marriage of convenience. But when the older woman’s son Alex (The Witcher‘s Eamon Farren) returns home from rehab, he and Olivia begin an affair that could potentially change both of their lives.

Streaming via The Criterion Channel.

I Carry You With Me (2020)

The true story of respected New York City restaurateurs Iván Garcia and Gerardo Zabaleta, I Carry You With Me is a decades-spanning saga of love. Oscar-nominated Jesus Camp director Heidi Ewing takes us back to Mexico, where young, aspiring chef Iván (Armando Espitia) and teacher Gerardo (Christian Vazquez) first meet and fall for one another. Rejected by their families, Iván decides to “cross over” to the States and make a new life for himself, while Gerardo feels he can’t leave home behind. As their story catches up to the present-day, the films powerfully uses footage of the real-life couple, living their shared American dream.

Streaming on Starz. Available for digital rental/purchase via Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play, & YouTube TV.

The Persian Version (2023)

In this Sundance Audience Award-winner, queer Iranian-American Leila (Lioness’ Layla Mohammadi) is reunited with her large family in the wake of her father’s emergency surgery, including her mother Shireen (Kaleidoscope‘s Niousha Noor), who she hasn’t spoken to in many years. Through flashbacks, we learn more of Shireen’s journey to America, and Leila comes to realize they have more in common than she ever imagined. Loosely based on writer-director Maryam Keshavarz’s own life, it’s not a queer immigrant story per se (she was born in America), but the film examines the immigrant experience through a queer, pop culture-fueled lens.

Streaming on Netflix. Available for digital rental/purchase via Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play, & YouTube TV.

Potato Dreams Of America (2021)

An irreverent coming-of-age dramedy, Potato Dreams Of America begins in Soviet-ruled Russia in 1985—styled like a classic TV sitcom—where a young boy dubbed Potato lives with his young mother and fantasizes about a new life while watching American movies. After mom becomes a mail-order bride, they move to Seattle where the film suddenly shifts styles to something more grounded in reality, and Potato comes to terms with his sexuality as he grows up in a world not quite like the blockbusters he long adored. Filmmaker Wes Hurley’s whimsical autobiography co-stars comedy icon Lea DeLaria and Jonathan Bennett as Jesus. Yes, really!

Streaming on Freevee, Here TV, & Tubi. Available for digital rental/purchase via Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play, & YouTube TV.

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