As the world witnesses the largest refugee crisis in recent history — unprecedented in sheer scale and pace — Europe like so many other regions in the world is experiencing the devastation of forced displacement. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in the last month, over 10 million people have fled Ukraine, either displaced inside the country or as refugees abroad. Tragically, this new wave of refugees join 85 million people forcibly displaced around the world. Human stories breathe life to these facts and figures, helping us empathize with people forced to flee, through poetic and inspiring narratives. This is the power of storytelling as evidenced in this year’s Oscar nominated films.
“Encanto,” “Belfast,” “Dune,” “FLEE” and “Three Songs for Benazir” present a rich palette of stories with timely themes centered around identity, home and belonging, and what happens when those fundamentals are ripped away in sudden and dramatic turns, taking audiences to worlds both real and imagined.
“Encanto” brings us to the mystical world of the Madrigal family who were forced from their Colombian homeland, creating a community protected by magical powers. At the center of this multigenerational, fun-loving animated musical is the existential threat of displacement — of losing home and community and what it takes to protect it, as well the emotional scars from trauma of loss, which can pass on for generations.
“Belfast” is a coming-of-age story set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland which displaced many Irish under the threat of violence. It’s the story of a nation divided, of families splintered and having to make the tough decision to leave their homes and loved ones behind.
“Dune,” based on Frank Herbert’s 1960s subversive sci-fi epic, transports us to a futuristic interplanetary setting where conflict and climate make planet Arrakis profitable yet inhabitable. Their native inhabitants, the Fremen, are culturally persecuted and displaced, living in the shadows in their homeland. This futuristic tale is reflective not only of colonial histories, but of the current geopolitical landscape. Nations at war, unholy alliances, subjugation, persecution, and an existential crisis affecting our planet.
The documentaries “FLEE” and “Three Songs for Benazir” bring us intimate portraits of two young Afghan men, Amin and Shaista, whose respective stories happen 30 years apart, facing the deep generational trauma of a country caught in a cycle of conflict and crisis. They speak to the harrowing journeys of those who flee and those who remain, their loss and longing, their forbearance and determination, and ultimately their hopes and desires.
Against the backdrop of increasing global polarization, failed diplomacy and disinformation wars, these films help reframe the refugee narrative through intimate portraits of human crises with exquisite craftsmanship and genre defining styles. The protagonists’ journeys connect us to universal themes and show us that despite their experience of horror, trauma and fear, there is also laughter, romance and hope through the small triumphs of the human spirit.
There is a reason these films have resonated with audiences worldwide. Stories build connections between communities and cultures, challenging the way we see the world and each other. Now more than ever, we need to embrace this universal currency of empathy through our collective imagination.
The UNHCR is distributing blue and white ribbons #WithRefugees for the red carpet, for artists who wish to stand in solidarity with all those fleeing conflict and persecution.
Anadil Hossain serves as the principal communications adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In this role she brings her expertise as an impact storyteller to create a more curated communications strategy for the organization.