Documenting Refugees

A film by Sonari Chidi, C’20, challenges the depiction of refugees and immigrants in the media.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Sonari Chidi, C’20, saw the media’s depiction of refugees as incomplete. “What was missing were the voices of the refugees themselves,” he says. “I wanted to get their perspective.”

Sonari Chidi, C’20

Photo Credit: Alexander Derrick

The result, his 23-minute documentary Shattering Refuge, weaves together interviews with asylum seekers and other refugees, journalists, professors, and immigrants. Its screening at Perry World House in February was attended by more than 150 people. It was followed by a panel discussion with faculty and visiting fellows including Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a Perry World House Visiting Global Distinguished Leader-in-Residence.

Chidi began Shattering Refuge on the 2017 Penn-in-Kenya trip to the Kakuma Refugee Camp, led by Peter Decherney, Professor of English and Director of Cinema and Media Studies. Chidi interviewed refugee filmmakers trained by the nonprofit FilmAid International.

“The power of film is not only to be able to see a glimpse into other people’s lives and experiences that are not like our own, but to understand how their experiences are really a reflection of us,” he says. “Although we have external differences, there are some fundamental similarities and dreams and hopes and desires and human rights that we all share.”

Chidi, a double-major in cinema and media studies and Africana studies, has been accepted to the Penn Law Class of 2022 through the B.A./J.D. sub-matriculation program. He has also pursued research as a CAMRA Fellow and a Fox Research and Service Fellow.

Shattering Refuge won the Rough Cut Film Festival’s Social Justice Award, and Chidi plans to make it available online. “I want to get it out there to have as many people as possible see it, to hopefully learn something new and have their perspectives challenged.”