There is a common belief that people are inherently good and willing to help those in need. This theory is put to the test in Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams’ riveting documentary Someone Like Me. When 11 strangers from Vancouver’s LGBTQ+ come together to sponsor a queer refugee from Uganda fleeing persecution, they have nothing but the best of intentions.
Working with the Rainbow Refugee program, a non-profit that connects LGBTQ+ asylum claimants with sponsors, the group, which range from a transgender immigration lawyer to a fitness instructor, commit to a full year of sponsorship work. This includes fundraising the money needed to bring the applicant to Canada, picking the individual who will receive sponsorship, helping the person find housing once they have arrived, providing emotional support and more. Although their motivations may be pure, cracks begin to appear when the realities of what they have signed up for set in.
Navigating how to work with strangers for a common good comes with its own set of challenges; however, it is even more difficult planning a potential life for someone you know nothing about. This makes simple tasks, such as putting together a welcome basket of essentials or deciding what cellphone might be most useful, far more difficult than anticipated. There is also the added pressure of individual expectation, which threatens to burst their collective balloon of optimism.
As Someone Like Me unravels, it becomes increasingly clear that there are vastly different views for what people think is best for Drake, the 22-year-old gay male they pick to sponsor. Within weeks of his arrival, disagreement erupts within the group regarding his partying and celebration of his newfound freedom and the individual sponsors who have supposedly enabled it.
The stark reactions to Drake’s legal use of alcohol and cannabis allow Horlor and Adams’ documentary to raise important questions regarding the way Canada and society as a whole polices refugees. Despite being an adult who is more than capable of making his own decisions, there are those who see Drake more as a cause than as a person. Someone who should reward their generosity with an almost unspoken obedience.
What is most striking about the squabbles within the group is how much they revolve around their perceptions of who Drake should be. As privileged individuals living in Canada—who can walk away from the group the minute things get uncomfortable—there is little consideration of Drake’s perspective on things. No thought is given to what it must have been like living in a land where it is illegal to be one’s true self. Through the charismatic Drake, Someone Like Me is able to highlight the messy truths beneath Canada’s pristine veil of multiculturalism.
Despite giving up everything, including family and friends, to come to Canada, Drake faced new and unforeseen obstacles in his new homeland. While his sexuality was considered a threat in Uganda, it is his Black skin that present new roadblocks and dangers in Vancouver. As Someone Like Me navigates his attempts to forge a new life in Canada, a task made harder by the COVID-19 pandemic, Horlor and Adams effectively capture the struggles that come with refugee sponsorship.
The burdens on both the sponsors and Drake are palpable, but Horlor and Adams’ documentary also touches on the positives as well. It is heartwarming to observe the genuine friendships that develop between Drake and certain sponsors. So even when Someone Like Me detours a little too much into the story of one’s sponsor’s gender transition, which could have been its own interesting documentary, the film always steers ably back to the bonds formed. One gets the sense that regardless of the hurdles Drake will no doubt continue to jump, he will no longer have to do it alone.
Taken as a whole, Someone Like Me is an engaging examination of what it means to be free and a riveting reminder that no one should have to hide their true self.
Someone Like Me screens virtually at Hot Docs from April 29 to May 9. Head here for more coverage of this year’s festival.