When the refugee musicians in the Refugee Orchestra Project perform a concert, conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya–herself a refugee from Russia–invariably hears one reaction from some audience members: The performers “don’t look like refugees.”
The experience helped inspire a short film that counters some of the common assumptions about refugees, from what they look like and where they come from to how they affect the U.S. economy. A group of ad industry creatives came together to work on the project, called Refugees Are Us, after Trump first halted the refugee resettlement program.
The video includes a series of short interviews and a series of cleverly edited assumptions. Refugees are radical(ly openminded). Refugees are taking jobs (seriously). Refugees are bad(ass). Refugees are bringing crime (rates down).
Though the film was created in response to the refugee ban, the group decided not focus directly on the ban or on other policies. “One thing we talked about a lot in the strategy session was that if we go really anti-ban and speak from a very negative view instead of something that has some lightness to it, then we’ll probably see just a continuation of the bubble effect that we see everywhere else,” Duffy says. “We won’t really break through with anything because it’s always a polarized situation. What I hope is that we don’t just speak to our inner circle continuously. I would hope that it gets out to people who can see the video who may have one idea in mind about refugees, and change that.”
A series of posters elaborates on the misconceptions, sharing facts about refugees like that they lower crime rates than native-born citizens, and immigrants or their children founded 40% of America’s Fortune 500 companies.
The project came from a collective called Papel and Caneta, which brings together people working at ad agencies and production companies who want to use their skills for something other than commercial projects. The whole creative process, which might have taken six months or more for a typical project, finished in six days.
Creative directors and copywriters worked closely with refugees including Yankovskaya and musicians from the orchestra, which itself was started to demonstrate the value of refugees in American life through music. The film’s co-director, Tarek Turkey, is also a refugee.
“We’re not sitting in a room in a vacuum,” says Duffy. “We’re collaborating with people who know the problem from experience. I think that unfortunately in the commercial world, a lot of times there will be a project that tries to attack these things, but it’s very much done from an outsider’s point of view.”