Film Review: The Unafraid
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
“We have years of activism under our belts. Now we just fight harder, we fight smarter, and we fight as one.” – Alejandro, film subject, The Unafraid
The Unafraid is a feature length documentary that follows the lives of three DACA students in Georgia, a state that has banned them from attending its top public universities, and from qualifying for in-state tuition at any other public college. Directed by Anayansi Prado and Heather Courtney, and using observational footage shot over three years, The Unafraid tells the personal stories of a group of friends connected by an underground movement called Freedom University.
As President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric against immigrants’ gains momentum, and amid constant threat of losing their DACA status and being deported, Alejandro ("Cheesecake"), Silvia, and Aldo direct their passions towards the fight for education in the undocumented community. These young people are determined to overcome and dismantle oppressive policies and mindsets. The Unafraid humanizes the experience of undocumented and DACA students, their families and communities.
The opening of the film is full of excitement as Aldo, and Sylvia graduate from high school. All three are planning to attend college in the Fall, but we soon learn that none of them are able to attend school in Georgia. There are specific regulations that prohibit undocumented or DACA immigrants from attending the top five ranked schools in the state and they also are not eligible for in state tuition and must pay international fees. These limitations have kept all three from attending college.
Aldo, Cheesecake, and Silvia are part of an activist organization called Freedom University, which works to help better the lives of immigrants through peaceful protest and other activities. In The Unafraid we see them plan and execute a sit-in at the University of Georgia. Their plan is so well thought out that they even have lawyers and bonds prepared should anyone be arrested - even though getting arrested might alter their DACA status. And, spoiler alert - they do get arrested. I was humbled by their willingness to risk that and the calm passion with which they carried out their protest. Later in the film, when the three of them speak in front of the State of Georgia, asking for legislation that would grant DACA students in-state tuition, they remained stoic and professional in the face of ill-informed and apathetic State Representatives. Sharing emotional details from her life as a child of illegal immigrants, Silvia's rhetoric was vulnerable and eye-opening, despite falling on deaf ears. I felt frustrated and sad.
The narratives of their lives intersect at protests and rallies, and then expand out from this unifying force to the personal daily challenges faced by them and their families. Silvia moves 2,000 miles away from her boyfriend and family to establish residency in another state where she will believes she will qualify for in-state tuition. Despite her efforts, 6 months into the process she learns that she would never have qualified for in-state tuition and moves back home with no prospects for school. When his father becomes too ill to manage the family mechanic shop, Aldo takes over. They sell tacos on the side for the international tuition at the local college, and Aldo takes one class at a time. Cheesecake gets accepted into a prestigious out-of-state university, only to find himself feeling separate and deeply homesick.
This is a touching, hopeful, disheartening, and eye-opening documentary. The film spotlights how hard it is to live in the United States as someone who is undocumented, the feeling of never truly belonging anywhere as an immigrant, and the positive activist work the students are doing through Freedom University. Their desire to create a better future for the generations behind them is palpable, and despite numerous setbacks, they remain grounded, committed, “undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid.”
Justice for our Neighbors is hosting local screenings. Check their website and Facebook for showings. For updates on the film, visit The Unafraid Documentary on Facebook. You can also watch the film's public airing on PBS: Oct. 1st at 8pm est/7pm cst/9pm pst.