“Documented”: You're a Good American Until You Find Out You're Not

The definition of what it means to be “American” has been muddled ever since European settlers committed genocide against the peoples already living on the landmass arbitrarily named after an Italian cartographer, and as writer/director Jose Antonio Vargas demonstrates in Documented, we're no closer to either consensus on the matter or to explicable laws. The film is essentially a personal essay by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Vargas, whose mother sent him from the Philippines to America in 1993 when he was 12. Unaware that his papers were forgeries until he tried to get a driver's license, Vargas bluffed his way through the system, finally coming out as undocumented in a 2011 New York Times Magazine article — and in the process becoming an activist for other Americanized young people facing deportation through no fault of their own. (Notably, Vargas came out as queer years before he came out as undocumented, and his integrity prevented him from entering a sham marriage with a woman to get a green card.) A few scenes of white people saying mortifying things about immigration suggest that the picture could have gone into Borat territory, but Vargas keeps it personal, especially concerning his estranged mother in Manila, and Documented mines genuine pathos from an unaccepted Facebook friend request.

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