If you are like me, you'll find yourself falling in love with Moises Serrano, the subject of Tiffany Rhynard's intelligent and moving documentary Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America that is having its world premiere on July 12th as part of L.A.'s Outfest at the DGA Theater Complex.
Serrano, now in his mid 20's, was a mere 18 months old when his parents fled Mexico in search of the American dream. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, Serrano dealt extensively with the limited resources available in his area and, perhaps not surprisingly, experienced bullying as a kid who was different. Despite everything, Serrano fell in love with a country that refused to recognize the fullness of his humanity - first as an undocumented immigrant and then as a gay man.
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Tiffany Rhynard, Forbidden follows Serrano's journey as an activist fighting for his American dream and the American dream of so many others. Ultimately a story of love conquering hate, Forbidden is authentic and realistic in portraying the obstacles that Serrano has faced throughout his life including the period around the age of 21 when a suicidal Serrano struggled with finding hope amidst all those seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet it seems like that's when he discovered his voice, his strength and the beginnings of a comfort with his own identity that has turned him into an increasingly visible and outspoken activist, though Serrano himself views himself as more storyteller than activist.
Forbidden illustrates what Serrano considers to be one of his life missions to bring to life - the intersection between immigration and queer rights issues and the stark realities faced by LGBTQ minorities growing up in the rural South where homophobia and anti-immigration sentiments remain vibrant and strong. Serrano has encountered hatred in his hometown of Yadkinville, where the KKK continues to meet not far from his home and where Serrano has found dead rats in his mailbox and crosses in his yard.
Yet, there's something about Moises Serrano. The young man is refreshingly authentic, charming, charismatic and infinitely likable. While the most diehard anti-immigration American most likely won't find themselves swayed by Forbidden, most others will find Serrano's story to be immensely compelling.
Of course, being set in North Carolina, there's no question that Forbidden must and does address the elephants in the room ranging from HB2 to DOMA to DACA and more. In fact, it was the failure of the passing of Dream Act and the subsequent decision by a group of local undocumented immigrant activists to speak out at the courthouse in Yadkinville that drew Serrano into the issue. For the first time in his life acknowledging both being undocumented and queer, Serrano discovered a freedom in the confession despite consequences that regrettably rippled into the lives of his family members. From listening to Serrano's speaking, it's difficult to imagine a time when he wasn't comfortable sharing his story as he seemingly does so with such ease and conviction that it seems as if he's always been this way.
He hasn't. It took commitment and courage and vulnerability and so much more.
Along the way, Serrano met and fell in love with, quite literally, the only other gay man in Yadkin County (What are the odds of that being a perfect match?). Additionally, Serrano helped found El Cambio, an organization committed to immigration and migrant rights in North Carolina. After initially even being denied entrance into a local community college, Serrano's outspoken activism and passion would eventually lead to his acceptance and full scholarship into Sarah Lawrence College.
Forbidden is, I must say, a weird film. It's a film that deals honestly with the challenges facing undocumented immigrants, the LGBTQ community and those who crossover. Yet, at its essence, it's a film filled to the brim with immense hopefulness that gushes forth in the presence of Serrano. Against so much darkness, it's the light that shines forth in Forbidden.
If you get a chance to hit Outfest L.A., check out Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America or be sure to check out the film as it continues its festival journey from here on out.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic