Five Movies about Forced Displacement Worth Watching

Five tiles with stills from each of the recommended movies

Movies can be a powerful medium to dispel our preconceptions and connect to the people affected by the global issues we see in the headlines. This is also the case for telling the stories of people affected by forced displacement. However, many movies that feature refugees and other forcibly displaced people are often plagued by tired tropes that portray refugees as people without a history, or whose only role is to support or inspire a non-refugee protagonist. This needs to change to improve narratives around forced displacement and highlight the human impact of barriers to asylum.

Below, we share five movies that we think got it right. In each movie, the main characters are forcibly displaced people, and the movies deliberately included the perspectives and performances of people with lived experience of forced displacement. These elements together have resulted in some truly impactful stories that do justice to the experiences of many refugees.

Io Capitano

Io Capitano (2023) is a fictional drama by Matteo Garrone that follows two young cousins, Seydou and Moussa, as they leave Senegal to escape poverty in hopes of eventually reaching Europe. Their journey through Mali, Niger and Libya is fraught with difficulties as they are subject to a harsh crossing of the Sahara, exploitation, separation and their eventual battle with the Mediterranean Sea. 

The movie has been well received by critics and has even been nominated for an Academy Award–and we can see why. The screenplay was inspired by the written accounts of migrants and refugees from across West Africa who have made similar journeys. This included detailed input from Kouassi Pli Adama Mamadou, an Ivorian activist whose journey to safety in Italy after fleeing civil war was the original account that pushed Matteo Garrone to make the film.

Thousands of people are forced to make life-threatening crossings of the Mediterranean Sea to reach safety due to a purposeful limitation of safe, legal routes by many European governments. Io Capitano provides an essential humanization of the people behind the statistics reported in headlines whose stories are seldom told, let alone on the big screen.

Available to watch now in cinemas worldwide or through Apple TV and YouTube.


Flee (2021) is a critically acclaimed animated documentary that focuses on Amin as he talks about his escape from Afghanistan to Denmark for the first time in his life. Beautiful, evocative animations bring to life the recorded conversations between Amin and his childhood friend Jonas Poher Rasmussen, who also directs the movie.

It is not often in movies about forced displacement that we see the director give complete control and autonomy to someone telling their own story in their own words. Rasmussen interviewed Amin over many months, with their friendship and trust ensuring that Amin only shared what he was comfortable with. The film also importantly captures how one’s trauma from being forced to flee can still affect one’s present years later: Amin, now an accomplished postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, remains hesitant of becoming too attached to people or places lest they be taken away again in an instant. 

The movie captures incredibly well the love between Amin and his family as well as the many treacherous risks that many Afghans have had to take to seek safety. 

Available to watch on Apple TV, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video (in Danish with English subtitles). 

Fireflies (Luciérnagas)

Fireflies (Luciérnagas) (2018) is the latest film from Iranian American filmmaker Bani Khoshnoudi. The film follows the life of Ramin, a young, gay man from Iran who has ended up stranded in Veracruz, Mexico, after stowing away on a cargo ship from Turkey. 

This film delicately captures the emotional difficulties many face in making an unknown country their new home. Ramin, unable to find a way to move on from Veracruz, feels increasingly stuck and frustrated as he becomes swamped by loneliness, fraught relationships back home, financial difficulties, and language barriers. Eventually, he begins to accept that his time in Veracruz may not be so temporary after all and begins to form connections with the people around him, all of whom have their own stories and struggles. 

Available to watch on Amazon Prime Video (in Spanish/Farsi with English subtitles).


Limbo (2020) is a wry comedy-drama by Ben Sharrock. It centers around Omar, a Syrian refugee, and his four housemates as they await their asylum cases on an isolated, non-descript Scottish island. The four guys try to find anything to pass the time between waiting and their dull yet mandatory cultural awareness classes. Set against the backdrop of a seemingly unending purgatory, we are invited into the lives of these four men trying to start anew. 

Unlike other movies about forced displacement, this film is unique in its focus on the waiting many forcibly displaced people experience between arriving to a new country and receiving refugee status. Omar is left impatient as the drudgery drags on, which also makes the emotional burden of his journey, family pressures, and current situation even greater. 

Available to watch on Apple TV, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video


Funan (2018) is an animated movie that focuses on a young Cambodian family–Chou, her husband Khuon, and their son Sovanh–as they escape the dangers of the revolution that started the repressive Khmer Rouge regime. The film is beautifully animated with a poignant portrayal of a family pulled apart by political upheaval. The main protagonist, Chou, is based on the mother of the movie’s director, Denis Do. 

This film does a skillful job of portraying the unshakable determination of Chou to find safety for her son against the backdrop of the gruesome realities of war and genocide. 

Available to watch on Apple TV, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video (in French with English subtitles)