CW: Homophobia, racism, mention of suicide
For Alex Sangha, a social worker and founder of Sher Vancouver, filmmaking is just another approach to community advocacy and activism. Now, as a film producer with Sher Films, he has shown the power of storytelling, especially for queer South Asians in Metro Vancouver.
Emergence: Out of the Shadows, set to release this fall, is a story about three people, Kayden, Jag, and Alex, facing heartbreak and finding acceptance and love through families and community.
The film tells the story of Kayden, a young immigrant man from India, who was disowned by his parents after they found out he was gay, leaving him alone in a foreign land.
Jag Nagra, a lesbian woman with hopes of getting married and having children, shares her journey of being afraid of coming out to her immigrant parents, who are also featured.
Producer Alex Sangha, who confronted his internalized homophobia and came out to his mother as an older person, talks about the need for solidarity and community as a queer brown man.
Giving a rare insight into the challenges of being queer in conservative brown families, Emergence has generated quite the buzz by being accepted to an Academy Award qualifying film festival in the U.S., among eight other festivals.
In an interview with 5X Press, Sangha explained that although showcasing the culturally specific barriers faced by queer South Asians is the focal point of this film, it goes beyond the struggles of queer individuals.
“You actually learn about the strengths and struggles of the parents of queer children. You never get to see the struggle that the parents go through,” he said.
“Because parents, they feel heartbroken. Their dreams are up in the air, they're confused. They don't know what's going to happen to their kids. Now, what are people going to say?”
There are few stories of immigrant South Asians coming to accept their own queerness, let alone ones that centre their parents, according to Sangha.
“In a way, [these parents] also go through their own coming out and their own journey of acceptance,” he said.
The film was eye-opening for him when he saw his own mother unpack her feelings.
“I always thought my mom accepted me and loved me, and she did. However, in the film, you actually get to see how hard it was for her. No one gave her an opportunity to discuss her feelings around her son being gay. And she never got to make sense of it.”
Sangha’s interest in using film as an advocacy tool goes back to his own experience as a gay brown man. In Surrey, he had no access to any queer communities, which eventually led to him founding Sher Vancouver.
“I was very suicidal when I was young. There was no internet, no cell phones back then. How are you supposed to meet someone? I remember, I used to go to a group for gay youth in Vancouver, scared out of my mind, travelling three hours back and forth to meet people like myself,” he said.
“When I got there, I realized I couldn’t fit in. I was like, the only brown guy there.”
Sangha explained that he faced a lot of racism within the queer community too, making it difficult for him to get any appropriate support.
“I couldn’t fit in with the brown guys. I couldn’t fit in with the white guys.”
Being a subject in this film himself, Sangha said that the process was re-traumatizing, yet one that provided him with a lot of closure from these childhood memories of being bullied, alienated, and being confused.
“It brought up a lot of feelings that I haven’t talked about in a long time,” he said.
The film will have a virtual screening for National Coming Out Day on October 11th for KDocs Film Festival, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, along with a panel discussion with the cast. On November 20th, there will be an in-person community screening at the North Delta Centre for the Arts.
Sangha hopes that the film can be screened at schools, in order to talk to students about taboo topics like transitioning, being racialized, and being queer.
“I don't remember watching a film in my whole life about people like me, or my family,” he said. “We're hoping we can educate not only the youth, but also the parents.”
He is hopeful that the film will resonate with many people who are queer or might know someone who is queer.
“In this film, you're laughing, you're emotional, you're sad. Very few films can bring out these types of emotions in 80 minutes. If you're a human being with any degree of compassion, you will relate emotionally as a human being.”
About the author: Karan Saxena (he/they) is a journalist and writer from Mumbai, India. He is currently in Vancouver pursuing his Master of Journalism at UBC. He graduated from the University of Manitoba with a BA (Adv.) in Political Studies and a BA in Women's & Gender Studies. Karan loves researching and writing on queer culture, climate change, immigration, power structures, fascism and violence. He could talk for hours about fashion, French pop music, the ongoing exploitation of the global south, wealth inequality, and the versatility of tote bags!