‘Forbidden’ explores undocumented, queer life in rural America

Director Tiffany Rhynard (right) and editor Heather Matthews (center) took questions from the audience at the event; photo by Becca Shwartz
Director Tiffany Rhynard (right) and editor Heather Matthews (center) took questions from the audience at the event. Photo by Becca Shwartz.

The VCU Division for Inclusive Excellence hosted a screening of “Forbidden-Undocumented and Queer in Rural America,” a documentary about of Moises Serrano, a queer undocumented immigrant and advocate at all intersections of his identity.

The film’s producer, writer and director Tiffany Rhynard and the film’s editor Heather Mathews were present at the screening and participated in a panel discussion afterwards. Serrano was originally going to attend, but was unable because of schedule conflicts.

Serrano was less than two years old when his family crossed from Mexico into the U.S., settling in Ladkin Co., N.C. Shots of the state’s shops and natural landscape are sandwiched between sections of the documentary.

“It felt really necessary to be filming in that rural area because it’s so different than an urban environment where you have access to a lot of resources,”  Rhynard said. “That felt really clear, that it’s just harder to get things done.”

Rhynard said that when they start filming, the crew wasn’t sure how the story would pan out.

“We definitely wanted the beginning of the film to be Moises telling his own story, describing who he was and where he came from,” Mathews said.

Numerous marches and rallies take place throughout the documentary. Some feature chants such as, “we’re here, we’re queer” and “undocumented and without fear.” In one scene, Serrano speaks to a group of organizers and switches between Spanish and English every few sentences so each phrase would be expressed in both languages.

Serrano said in the documentary that he feels privileged both for his light skin and ability to speak English fluently.

The words of President Donald Trump on the campaign trail, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” start of  the documentary, but the desire many undocumented students have to obtain higher education is the central focus in “Forbidden.”

“The college piece (of “Forbidden”) actually came in later. We didn’t know it was going to happen, but we knew it was an important story,” Rhynard said.

Immigration lawyer Ann Marie Dooley discussed the implications of the Obama – era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which allows renewable deferred action from deportation for many undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors. Dooley described the policy as a “Band-Aid.”

DACA allowed Serrano to apply to college, which wasn’t previously possible for undocumented immigrants in North Carolina. He now attends Sarah Lawrence College.

Members of Serrano’s family also reflect on their own challenges, including crossing the border.

“We knew that the story of his parents journeying across the desert, to bring their family here for a better life was a story that needed to be told,” Rhynard said.

According to Rhynard, there were originally 250 hours of footage and the first cut of the film was more than four hours long.

“I worked in black hole for six months getting the first cut together,” Mathews said.

Originally, Mathews said the documentary focused equally on Serrano’s experiences as a queer man,  but eventually  decided to focus more on his story as an undocumented immigrant because it’s a pressing issue that doesn’t have as much attention.

Rhynard said she became very close to both Serrano and his family through the filming process.

“I feel very blessed that I got to know this young man and his family. I feel like my life is richer because of it,” Rhynard said. “The film has been a labor of love, a lot of time and energy put into it, but that also felt really necessary.”

VCU students can watch “Forbidden” for free through Kanopy, a streaming service, at vcu.kanopystreaming.com

Georgia Geen | Spectrum | geengr@commonwealthtimes.org

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