Who brought a magnifying glass to the meet and greet? Did you have to rehearse your alter ego before attending a social gathering? Do you get so tired of all the explaining, you just want to scream your truth in the face of social persecution? Why do we always feel the need to fit the mold to avoid conflict? So many questions about our identity that require strategy, strength, confidence and consequence. Where do you start the conversation and are you prepared for the pain of rejection? To be yourself is to love yourself. Living your truth should never be a choice… it should be a given.
If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, truth or consequence can mean pain and heartache or a new chapter in acceptance. Life can be difficult enough navigating friend or foe, a biased society, coming out and maintaining relations. For the majority of us, we can never appreciate the hardships of living your truth. As a society that calls itself inclusive, we can still become complacent if we forget about acceptance, diversity, unity and moral obligation. We are all different in some way and we are all entitled to live our best life!
Emergence – Out of the Shadows is a film that addresses the struggles of coming out. It follows three queer South Asians and their journey of acceptance within their conservative Punjabi Sikh families. For Kayden, Jag, and Amar, awakening to and expressing their sexuality within their traditional South Asian communities was a lonely and terrifying experience. Alex has a Masters in Public Administration and Public Policy from the London School of Economics. He has a Master of Social Work from Dalhousie University, as well as a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of British Columbia.
Emergence: Out of the Shadows was directed and edited by Vinay Giridhar (Love’s Age), produced by Alex Sangha (My Name Was January) and features cast, Alex Sangha, Kayden Bhangu, Jag Nagra, Jaspal Sangha, Avtar Singh Nagra, Rajwant Kaur Nagra and Harv Nagra. Christine Michelle Lord was Director of Photography and additional cinematography was done by Bhavesh Chauhan.
I spoke with producer Alex Sangha and cast subject Jag Nagra, about this incredibly revealing and must-see documentary. Roll the tape!
HNMAG “Although this film addresses the challenges and stories of individuals coming out, there is an extra layer to the process, because the individuals in the documentary are also of Indian culture. As producer, did you already know how you were going to map out/format this storyline prior to filming?”
ALEX “I gave a lot of creative control over to our director Vinay Giridhar, however I had 50-60 people from various backgrounds review the film; many were professional Indie filmmakers and others with diverse backgrounds, who all provided detailed feedback. It was extremely helpful in determining where our themes were and where our story was connecting. Vinay was able to utilize that feedback to better shape his creative process.”
HNMAG “Congratulations Jag, on being a new parent. Your parents look so proud of you and your partner. Has your brother in the film started his own family as well?”
JAG “No, he doesn’t have kids and lives in London. He’ll be coming to visit this weekend for the first time since the pandemic. He’ll be coming with his partner and I’m excited to see him. I don’t think he wants kids but I haven’t really talked to him about it.”
HNMAG “There’re many great stories coming out of this documentary… but there is still much conflict between a son/daughter coming out and Indian parents/tradition accepting them for their sexual preference. Was that the driving force behind this film to show the cultural indifference/contrast with LGBTQ acceptance?”
ALEX “That was the end result but in all honesty, the driving force was Kayden’s story. Kayden sort of fell into our lap through SHER Vancouver and as human beings, we couldn’t abandon him on the street. Our organization had helped him as much as possible. I had a meeting with our director, who really wanted to make a film and had studied at the Vancouver Film School. Kayden was available and I thought it would be a good idea to tell his story, to help ensure that others don’t go through the same experience of being disowned. It was an opportunity to educate parents and to give kids hope. I wanted a well-balanced story with a female perspective – Jag and her parents, myself as an older gay man and Kayden as a young man. Not everything in the story is positive. As you see in the film, both mine and Jag’s parents struggled and it was very difficult for Jag and her brother. Unfortunately, for Kayden… it didn’t really turn out and his family still hasn’t accepted him but my mother has taken him in and has become his new family. The director looked at all the material and who he wanted to cast. Within the Metro Vancouver area, there is a large Punjabi Sikh demographic and he wanted to focus on being consistent with the people of that background and culture.”
HNMAG “Who did you begin following first, to get their story?”
ALEX “Once we had Jag’s parents on board and my mother, we had gotten Kayden on board… we started scheduling studio interviews throughout the 3 days. We’d have Jag come at a certain time, I would come, my mom would come, other people would come. We then started shooting B-roll with each person to fill in and flesh out the story, in keeping it interesting.”
HNMAG “How many hours of footage did you have to work with?”
ALEX “We had a lot, maybe 100 hours. We’re also going to be creating 3 short films for Highschool’s 20 – 25 mins. long telling Kayden’s, Jag’s and my story. We currently have a teachers discussion guide that’s available on the website emergencefilm.net. Once there, you can find it in the screenings download discussion guide. It’s absolutely free and we created the discussion guide specifically for teachers.”
HNMAG “Would these High School’s be in Surrey, BC or all across Canada?”
ALEX “We have a distributor, Moving Images Distribution and they are an educational distributor located in Vancouver. It will be sold across Canada and the globe from their website and we’ll be screening the film at 10 locations across Metro Vancouver, which are listed on the Emergence website under community screenings. In addition, we’ve also been accepted into 15 very decent film festivals around the world and we’ll be having our world premiere at the Cinema Diverse: Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Fest on Sept. 19. We’ve also been accepted into Out on Film in Atlanta, which is an Academy Award qualifying festival. There’s also the Chicago South Asian Film Festival and some others that haven’t been announced yet, but we really got into some incredible festivals, including the oldest queer film festival in Canada, Reel Pride – which is in Winnipeg.”
HNMAG “Jag, you had the cameras following you and your partner, your kids and parents around. Did it become uncomfortable or too much?”
JAG “It was after we had our oldest daughter, that I finally stopped tip-toeing around being queer and became more accepting of myself… especially after my parents were sharing the news about being new grandparents. My friends are accepting, my family is accepting, I’m in a safe bubble. However, in saying that – I sometimes forget that others are still struggling for acceptance. My involvement in this film felt natural, to be able to talk about it and educate our parents’ generation. It’s our parents and grandparents that we need to educate in order to help normalize it, so it wasn’t a tough decision to be involved.”
HNMAG “Have you Jag, ever had the opportunity to talk to a youth that’s struggling with their sexual identity?”
JAG “Maybe not younger, but somebody my age… she was watching the trailer, she lives in Ottawa and she was having a hard time coming out to her mom. She had reached out to me through Instagram and we had a facetime call the very next day. It felt amazing to be able to offer advice to somebody that had reached out but at the same time, not every parent is going to react the same way. There’s not a one size fits all rule but it felt good to be able to offer some assurance that, with some people it just takes time before they come around. It’s also been great to have made a new friend. In regards to younger people, I’ve spoken to kindergarten teachers that are already teaching this. The curriculum is so different now in comparison to when I was in High School. In my school, we had a gay/straight alliance and only had 1 openly gay boy. It wasn’t talked about much, so we weren’t educated.’
HNMAG “Do you see a void in education or elsewhere that could be improved upon, if only they would carry the torch?”
ALEX “I have to be honest. There is still a lot of homophobia and transphobia amongst parents and the school system. People sometimes bring their conservative views wherever they go and it’s sad because the kids just want to fit in and be accepted. I remember a story that came out a couple of months ago, about a valedictorian doing a coming out speech at his graduation. Half way through his speech, he was asked to stop, citing that it wasn’t the place to be sharing personal stories. There’s another story about a young boy that went to Highschool in Surrey. He was bullied, they called him gay and other homophobic names… but he was actually straight, and unfortunately – he took his own life. Homophobia and transphobia can affect everyone and anyone can be a victim. Once parents and other people realize a healthy and nurturing society, where everyone can feel welcome and supported is beneficial to everyone, including their own children.”
HNMAG “There are still some countries where they don’t support LGBTQ rights. Because of that fact, are there some countries that won’t see this film?”
ALEX “I have sent this film to Iran, Tehran, I’ve sent it to Pakistan, to Nigeria and other places around the world that happened to have really good film festivals, including China. I didn’t think about the countries that might be homophobic or transphobic, but rather – if we were a good fit for a human rights festival, a diversity festival or an Asian festival then I should have every right to submit to them. We’ll see what happens (laughing). Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to submit to Iran but we’ll find out (laughing).”
HNMAG “Jag, did you have any trepidation when Alex had asked you to be in the film?”
JAG “I think I was excited to share my story. For a lot of parents in our culture that have gay children, they feel like ‘their children are gay, they can never have kids’. There’s so much importance placed on marriage and having a family for South Asians but by telling our story, it is possible. We’ve got 2 kids now and we’re like everyone else – we get up with them at 6 in the morning and make breakfast; everything that a straight couple would do. The love is the same and grandparents are going to express that love no matter if it’s a gay child or straight child.”
ALEX “In a strange sort of way, we really create our own family within the gay world and Jag is proof, that you can have your own family. Sometimes people that come into your life and your friends become your chosen family.”
HNMAG “When did you start making this film?”
ALEX “I believe it’s been a 2 year process. What do you think Jag?”
JAG “I think it was exactly 2 years ago – Sept/early Oct, that we started filming. Our son was born last August, so there was more than a year of footage captured, along with B-roll.”
HNMAG “Jag, was there a sense of elation, in knowing that your story will benefit others?”
JAG “I feel like it was very cathartic to share the story, because I don’t think I’ve ever chronologically… spoken all of the words about my coming out. It felt like a big release for me and I wasn’t thinking about the audience response; that came later, after we finished filming. After Alex had sent me the rough cut, I had some apprehension after watching it, and it became daunting to me because I was afraid of hearing my parent’s perspective on it. It’s a little triggering to hear all those words again and to relive all those emotions… it’s quite a big release to be able to share all that.”
HNMAG “How did you fund this film?”
ALEX “This is an exclusively grass roots funded film. We had 40 sponsors and funders, including Creative BC, Telefilm, BC Arts Council, City of New Westminster, City of Delta, as well as a major grant from Vancity. We secured approx. 225,000.00, which covered the entire cost of the film. SHER has been around since 2008 and we’ve built relationships with a number of sponsors in the community. When I approached them and proposed the film for sponsorship, I told them I was a social worker that wanted to make a social justice feature film on social advocacy, social activism for social work purposes and to help people. We ended up getting the money and now we’re a registered charity but one of the few that can do Arts and Cultural film production, as well as social service delivery. When people donate to us, we can now give them a tax-deductible receipt. In a way, SHER Vancouver is really pioneering ‘non-profit’ filmmaking in this country. We are opening the door to an entirely new way of financing films and making grassroots documentaries. I’m a social worker – I want to make social justice films, films that make a social impact that make a difference in people’s lives. If you go to our website, please click on our sponsors, supporters and media partners to see who supported us – it was a lot of unions.”
Alex and Jag are great advocates for living your truth and although acceptance hasn’t been easy, their resilience is their super power. Jag is a queer Punjabi artist. She and her wife, Agata, have been together for 8 years and together they have two beautiful children. Alex continues to foster inclusivity, belonging, unity and perseverance.