Lost Boys of Sudan (review)

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Peter Nyarol Dut and Santino Majok Chuor came to the United States in 2001, and their lives afterward were nothing like they expected. Orphaned as children by horrendous civil war in their home country of Sudan, they lived for years in a refugee camp in Kenya awaiting the opportunity to emigrate, and when permission came, American documentarians Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk followed them to Houston. Culture shock was bad enough — the friendly sweetness of the African custom of male friends walking hand in hand wouldn’t go over well on the streets of urban America — but the disillusionment was worse: this was not the “heaven on earth” they thought it’d be. Mylan and Shenk followed the boys — mere teenagers now on their own, with little support from the agency that arranged their escape — for a year, as Peter moved on to Kansas City and fulfilled his dream of attending high school and Santino floundered in low-paying shift work, and the result is a film about two different Americas: not just the wild and contradictory one we native-born Americans know versus the dream version that draws people from around the globe, but an America of disappointment and desolation versus one of hope and opportunity. These two young men and their bittersweet stories — which echo those of the 20,000 young Sudanese refugees who’ve settled in the U.S. — are haunting and unforgettable, particularly for this comparatively privileged American who considers herself lucky to have been born here.

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