Thursday, 3 November 2011

In America … A Home Call For Vagrant Africans Abroad

 By Omiko Awa

SET in the United States, the movie titled Soul To Soul outside Nigeria and as In American: The story of the Soul Sisters, within the country won the Best Film for African Abroad at the just concluded seventh edition of Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) held at Gloryland Cultural Centre, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.     
  The movie, an inspiring story of two young ladies, Shade and Sonya, is about what illegal immigrants face across the globe.
   Shade, an illegal immigrant, abandons her medical studies in the sixth year in one of Nigerian universities, for the perceived opportunities in the United States of America. Reaching there, she hopes to settle down, work and continue with her education, but things never worked out as planned; she lives with the uncle, who got her a job in a supermarket.
   Her uncle, lonely, sexually frustrated and caught in the webs of pornography, attempts to rape her. Disappointed at the behaviour, shade leaves his house for Sonya’s apartment from where she gets another job for herself.

  Sonya, Shade’s friend, is an African-American young lady dealing with the pressure of cultural ambiguity. In the void created by the separation of her parents, she longs for someone to learn on, shares common aspirations and discuses heartily. Shade’s coming to stay with her, then, fills the vacuum.
  The two soon feel a connection, individually and mutually, that grows into a relationship that later defines their lives.
   Free from the frustrated uncle, who has lived in America for over 15 years with nothing to show for it, and too ashamed to return to Nigeria, Shade falls in love with Curtis, an African-American.
   With Curtis, she nurses the ambition of settling permanently in the US — her long desired dream. But that dream, too, never holds, as the lover boy disappears to unknown place. Within the period of searching for her missing heartthrob, she discovers she is pregnant and has to work to get her daily needs.
   Faced with harsh immigrant laws that pay no attention to her plight, even with her being pregnant for an American citizen; Shade supported by Sonya’s parents’ challenges the law in the court.
   Not winning her case, Americans sympathetic to her problems organise a peaceful rally that draws the attention of the government to the difficult situations people seeking residency permit in the country face.
   However, seeing that all known legal means of making her a legal immigrant has failed, Shade courageously returns to Nigeria, with the mindset of a winner; having known what others know, but refuse to own up to it or just pretend it never existed.   
  Speaking during a mini premier, Rahman Oladigbolu, the director and producer says, “the title was changed from ‘Soul To Soul’ to ‘In America: The story of the Soul Sisters’ because of the TV series Soul to Soul currently on the country airwaves. So, we considered changing it to avoid confusion, but in countries outside our shores such as Canada and the United States, it remains Soul to Soul.”
   Oladigbolu, who also wrote the script, wants to use the multiple story line of the movie to tell the story of Nigerian immigrants in the US.
  “I want to use the movie to tell our story. I mean what some Nigerians are facing in the US and other countries across the globe of which nobody seems to be telling. We need to tell it, to make those at home to know what people face over there, for us to know our ourselves and the American society we always want to run to.”
  “I want to pass a universal message across the globe, which is no matter where one travels to, for one day he or she will return home. I want to see our transverse across the world, looking for greener Pasteur, as not limited to a geographical thing, but as the most important journey one takes to discover his or her identity, potentials and the world outside his or her home,” he equips.
  For instance, he adds, “Shade, the lead character went through all those troubles because she was an illegal alien, but was courageous enough to return home when she could not make any headway. For there are many Nigerians outside there, who do not want to come back home, despite their troubles. They are ashamed to return home.”
   Producing the movie based on what he sees immigrants go through in the US, the filmmaker enthuses, “one thing people fail to know, is that if one does not have a green card in the US, one cannot walk the streets free. One will even find it difficult to be fixed into the system. Though, a lot of opportunities exist there, but those opportunities are opened to people with green card. Some of our men are able to get away with it by marrying an American, but for our ladies, they are not that lucky, as it could be seen in the case of Shade that needs to depend on a man.”
   Not new in the terrain, the US-based independent filmmaker had at various times co-directed and co-produced documentaries and short movies in the US. But, In American: The story of the Soul Sisters marks his debut as a producer and director. He aims to use the movie to tell Nigerians and other foreign nationals that have nothing doing in countries other that theirs to return home and be of use to themselves and their communities aside from calling for global peace and unity. 
 “People see the story line as an empowerment story; a story that awakens an immigrant’s consciousness to return home when things are not working out the way he or she wants it. It has an underling message that the fate of any immigrant lies on his or her hands.”
  Apart from AMAA, the movie, which was a major feature at African International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, is also receiving positive responses among Americans.
“We have premiered it in Boston, where majority of the viewers are whites and in other states in the US, too; and the responses have been marvelous. However, the movie exposes the ugly experiences illegal immigrants go through in the supposedly assumed land of opportunities. Immigration is one of the problems President Obama is trying to tackle, so, the movie becomes relevant to the people. Secondly, it highlights the existence of racial discrimination in the US, even among people of the same skin colour — the Africans and African-Americans. It’s of interest to the viewers, who before now have paid much attention to the discrimination between whites and blacks.”
“With the introduction of that plot, I intend to say that discrimination is human, as it happens between people of the same race irrespective of geography or country as we have in Nigeria, where the different tribes discriminate among themselves.” 
  With cast such as Jimmy Jean-Louis, Kandace Cummings, Cristian DeJesus and Roger Dillingham Jnr., Oladigbolu hopes to use the experiences gathered being members of different groups that tried to address the African immigrant and African-American problems to enlighten people about US and other advanced countries people often run to.
Rahman Oladigbolu
  He said: “The story line was kick started by two different projects on African immigrant and African-American tension in the US. I was a member of different groups that tried to address these problems, so, as a filmmaker I desired to use movies to enlighten people coming to the US and the world, as a whole, to live in harmony.”
   Aside from wanting the movie to be shown in cinemas across the country beginning from the Easter period, the Oyo state-native aims at producing an all-Nigerian cast movie that will tell our story, as Nigerians.

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