In Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams’ feature doc Someone Like Me, Drake, a young gay man from Uganda, leaves behind everything he knows to attain the universal freedoms everyone deserves: to be who he is and love whomever he chooses without fear of discrimination, persecution, or violence. A group of queer strangers unite to resettle Drake in Vancouver, but they are tasked with a year-long commitment to someone they’ve never met, and struggle with the challenging conditions of this support. Together, Drake and his sponsors embark on an emotional journey in search of personal freedom, revealing how in a world where one must constantly fight for the right to exist, survival itself becomes a victory.
Leaving everything he knows behind, Drake, a vibrant 22-year-old gay man from Uganda, aspires to the universal freedoms everyone deserves: to be who he is and love whomever he chooses without fear of discrimination, persecution, or violence.
Tasked with a year-long commitment as Drake’s primary support network, a group of strangers from Vancouver’s queer community unite under the banner of Rainbow Refugee, a non-profit that connects LGBTQ+ asylum claimants with sponsors. In the months following Drake’s arrival, facets of his turbulent experience and day-to-day challenges begin to parallel those of certain group members: as a gay Black man, Marlon also moved cities in order to live his life openly; David struggles to find job security after grad school; and Kay’s gender transition presents a long and emotional road to personal freedom. As problems are compounded by the unexpected complication of a global pandemic, the group must ask themselves difficult questions about their capacity, commitment and conditions of support. The substantive work includes meeting Drake’s immediate basic needs; but sustaining the necessary emotional and psychological assistance and mentorship over the next 12 months becomes a delicate business.
Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams’ feature documentary Someone Like Me takes a verité approach to the generous and rough-edged nuances of what it means to sponsor an asylum seeker. Chronicling the complexities of the journey taken by Drake and his sponsors, the filmmakers illuminate how survival itself becomes a victory in a world where one must constantly fight for the right to exist.
Someone Like Me follows the parallel journeys of Drake, a gay asylum seeker from Uganda, and a group of strangers from Vancouver’s queer community who are tasked with supporting his resettlement in Canada. Together, they embark on a year-long quest for personal freedom, revealing how in a world where one must constantly fight for the right to exist, survival itself becomes a victory.
When a queer group of strangers unite to support a gay Ugandan man seeking asylum in Canada, unexpected challenges lead them down an emotional road together in search of personal freedom.
Why did you want to make this film?
Steve: I grew up hating myself for being gay. It took me a really long time to feel comfortable with who I was. This film started as wanting to explore who the queer community is today, and in a way, to write a love letter to the community I had come to adore. It was about exploring the queer community and in turn, finding out more about who I am.
We started researching in 2015. Trump was running for office, and anti-immigration and anti-refugee sentiment was ripping through society and across social media. On one side, you had the spread of misinformation: a relative of mine had shared a popular anti-immigration meme about refugees receiving more government support than old-age pensioners, and the noise was growing. On the other side, you had people pushing back against this, and I began seeing posts from these groups asking for donations to help sponsor LGBTQ refugees. Each group had about 10 or so people raising money and then they’d work with Rainbow Refugee to help get the person to safety in Canada.
Sean: When you’re faced with huge global problems, like the refugee crisis or the persecution of queer people around the world, it’s easy to feel powerless or that these problems are too large for one person to tackle. We wanted to make this film to show that it’s possible for one person to move the needle on these issues in a concrete and meaningful way. In Canada, anyone—queer or straight—can start a sponsorship circle. Other countries are studying what we’re doing here, and we hope this film helps inspire similar programs elsewhere in the world.
What were the most challenging aspects of the project?
Sean: The group of 11 sponsors who agreed to participate in the film didn’t know each other beforehand. They didn’t meet each other until the moment they walked into the first meeting with Rainbow Refugee with the cameras already rolling. They were complete strangers and had to learn to work together with a film crew watching everything they did. That was challenging for us and for the participants, because with a film like this, the people you see on camera are trusting us with the most intimate parts of their lives.
Another challenge was that this is a film about our community—the queer community—and many of our life experiences parallel the subjects’ experiences in Someone Like Me. There were times, both on and off camera, where someone would be describing violence or discrimination or persecution, or struggles with family or their sexuality or their gender, and it would bring up difficult memories from my own past. That was challenging in a way that I haven’t had to deal with in our other films.
Steve: One of the biggest challenges we faced was writing the script as we went. We didn’t know any of the subjects at the beginning and they didn’t know us. From the moment the circle formed, we had to quickly form real relationships with each of the circle members. We had to get a hold of their schedules, find out what they were willing to show on camera and how open they were to having us film them. It was days and weeks full of anxiety, feeling like we were intruding on these people’s lives and trying to walk that tightrope of not being too imposing but knowing that if they didn’t start filming with us, our story might not come together.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Sean: This was the kind of film that came home with us after the cameras stopped, and it put a lot of pressure on our non-working relationship. Steve and I have been together for 11 years, and we started our production company a year after we started dating. We rarely fight over our work, so when that started to happen when Drake’s group of sponsors fell apart, it was a sign that things had gotten pretty bad. But one of the benefits of working with your partner is that you already know how to support each other through all the hard parts. The film industry is an industry built on relationships and trust. There’s no one that I trust more than Steve. We are a team, and making it through 15 months of continuous shooting with all kinds of unexpected challenges really reaffirmed that we can do this together.
Steve: I’m not sure if I ever overcame these challenges. It was a full year of adrenaline-induced stress, and I am 99 percent sure that my hair is grey because of this film. I likened the filming process to fishing. We would head out hoping for a smooth shoot, collect the pieces that we needed and then bring them back to the office. It was about finding the rhythm and knowing that the story was not going to come together during a specific shoot. It taught me a lot about patience and giving in to the process.
What were some of the most surprising or rewarding aspects of the filming process?
Steve: One of the most surprising things I learned was that due to the Internet, culture has become global. When we started this project, I had many stereotypes of who and what an LGBTQ+ refugee was. My mind was littered with them. When Drake showed up and we started chatting, I was genuinely surprised to find out that we listened to the same music, watched the same shows. We had this cultural connection on which we could then begin to build a relationship, and I was surprised. I think it’s easy to forget that the Internet has connected us in many more ways than we all realize.
Sean: The sponsorship process really challenged the preconceived ideas I had about asylum seekers and what it means to make a commitment to support someone going through a very difficult time in their life. When things go sideways, can you work with others to find consensus even if you don’t agree with the final outcome? Are you capable of showing up day after day without judgment? Are you able to respect someone else’s autonomy, even if they make decisions you disagree with? One of the most surprising and rewarding things I’m taking away from this experience is a better understanding of my own boundaries and the difference between supporting and saving someone.
How did COVID-19 affect your film?
Steve: When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Canada in March 2020, we were seven months into production. At that time, we had found our stride and the story was really coming together, and then the pandemic changed everything. All the story threads we were following, the entire visual style of the film—everything went out the window. We had to start over from scratch.
When production shut down, we pitched the NFB on the idea of subjects using an iPhone 11 Pro to capture this moment in their lives. The self-filmed iPhone scenes turned out to be some of the most intimate moments in the final cut of the film. We might not have had the opportunity to document these key moments otherwise.
Sean: The editing process began before we had an ending to the film, with seven months of production ahead of us. We worked with editor Graham Kew remotely via Evercast and never spent any time physically together in an edit suite, which was a first for us.
We were also really worried for Drake and what this meant for his first year in Canada. But on the positive side, all the time we spent with the subjects and the NFB team and post-production team was a way for us all to support each other and have a sense of purpose during the pandemic. We are really fortunate that no one contracted COVID-19 during production. This turned out to be one of the busiest times in our lives, and it really pushed the film in a different direction.
Written and Directed by
Sean Horlor & Steve J. Adams
Directors of Photography
Edo Van Breemen
Vince Arvidson csc
Location Sound Recordists
Senior Production Coordinator
Amos Kambere of Umoja Operation Compassion Society
LAT Multilingual Translation & Marketing Inc.
Featuring (In Order Of Appearance)
Kenya Nature Network
Refugee Flag Kenya
40 Love Circle
West Coast Welcome Circle
Foundation Of Hope
Michelle Van Beusekom
Scorer Law Corporation
Vancouver Native Health Society
CAVE Youth Employment Program
Main Street Dance Authority
WISH Drop-In Centre Society
China Cloud Studios
Ride Cycle Club
Vancouver International Airport (Diane Pelosse)
Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club Vancouver
Opus Art Supplies
Chaos Space Photography Exhibition
Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre
The Woodward’s Building
Kelly & Kelly
Aunt Leah’s Christmas Tree Lot
Vancouver Pride Society
Performed by Cindy
Composed by Cinderella Sanyu
Published by Sheer Publishing
Courtesy of Cindy
As Performed by French Horn Rebellion, featuring Marcy Chin
Written by David Perlick-Molinari, Robert Perlick-Molinari, Lonique Chin and Luis Doncel
Used by Permission of Reservoir Media Music (ASCAP) o/b/o YouTooCanWoo LLC (ASCAP),
Party Ensemble Publishing (A SCAP) and Abood Music Limited (PRS)
Courtesy of toucan sounds
By arrangement with ZYNC Music | A Round Hill Company
“The Fear of Falling Apart”
Performed by Geoffroy
Written by Gabriel Gagnon, Max-Antoine Gendron, Geoffroy Sauvé, Clément Leduc and Nicola Ormiston
Published by Third Side Music
Courtesy of Bonsound Records
Kay & Emily
David & Brenda
Refugee Flag Kenya
Kenya Nature Network
FranceFootage / Pond5.com
Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery
Amid ‘ Kill the Gays’ bill uproar, Ugandan LGBTQ activist is killed by Tim Fitzsimons
More Homos Faces Exposed
‘Gayropa’: challenges and hopes of Europe’s LGBT+ refugees by Bradley Secker
Gay asylum seeker faces deportation from UK to Nigeria by Owen Bowcott
Police arrest 30 at gay pride rally in Moscow by Alexander Winning
LGBT asylum seekers’ claims routinely rejected in Europe and UK by Jon Henley
Uganda announces ‘ Kill the Gays’ law imposing death penalty on homosexuals by Samuel Osborne
Gay Star News
Chechnya: Police tell parents to ‘ kill your gay children or we will’ by Joe Morgan
Gay rights activists take to streets in India by Nirmala George
Nationalists burn LGBT flag while marking 76th anniversary of Warsaw Uprising
World laws pertaining to homosexual relationships and expression, Silje, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophobia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Katja De Bock
Filmed on the unceded Indigenous land belonging to the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of
the xʷməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish),
Stó:lō (Stolo), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations
©2021 National Film Board of Canada