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College junior Sonari-Nnamdi Chidi, the creator of the documentary Shattering Refuge, looked to portray the refugee crisis in a more realistic light.

Credit: Seavmeiyin Kun

More than 100 people gathered in Perry World House Monday night for the Penn premiere of "Shattering Refuge," a short documentary created by College junior Sonari-Nnamdi Chidi. The documentary focuses on the experiences of refugees and the role the media can play in the portrayal of refugees.

Chidi's movie featured recordings and interviews from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya as well as Western media clips that portrayed refugees in various ways — from threatening to helpless. One clip showed crying children who were separated from their parents at the Mexico-United States border. The showing was followed by a panel discussion about the challenges refugees face and policies that could help combat these challenges.

“Being a refugee is just a term,” a filmmaker from Kakuma said in the movie's final scene. “It is just my circumstance. If I had the same resources as you, I could be on the same level as you."

In the documentary, Chidi also interviewed Emma Restrepo, a journalist from Colombia who was forced to flee to the United States due to war in her home country, and Fatemeh Shams, a stateless refugee from Mashad, Iran who is now an assistant professor of Persian Literature and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Penn.

Coming to Penn as an experienced actor, Chidi attended the Penn-in-Kenya summer program the summer after his freshman year. There, he worked with filmmakers in the Kakuma refugee camp and took the footage that ultimately made its way into "Shattering Refuge."

Following the documentary's screening, Chidi moderated a panel to discuss the film. Panelists included Shams and Restrepo, along with three Perry World House Fellows — former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, former President of Refugees International Michel Gabaudan, and former Philadelphia City Solicitor and Penn Law School lecturer Sozi Tulante

The panelists focused on the stigma that comes with calling someone a refugee and the issues with referring to the current situation as a "crisis."

Credit: Seavmeiyin Kun

The movie shows clips from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya combined with western media clips that portray refugees as helpless or threatening, demonstrating the contrast in perspectives. 

“When I first meet people, I always start by describing my work,” Shams said about her poetry and research. “But then when I tell people that I am also a landless refugee, they always have a strong reaction. This is because refugee is not just a term, but an image and a stigma, and it comes with very many misunderstandings."

The premiere was sponsored by Perry World House, the Center for Africana Studies, and 4Ground Media.

Students who attended said the event made them think differently about refugees. 

"Going in, I had the idea that refugees are helpless," College freshman Ami Ikuenobe said. "It was interesting to see a different perspective.”

College senior Chieme Ohanele, who had heard about the documentary before coming to the event, said she was most excited by the different perspectives provided by the panel discussion. 

“The idea of what a crisis is is very ambiguous and used by the media to support different sides," Ohanele said. "I think what needs to happen is a reshaping of the idea of what a refugee is and what a camp is and can be.”

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