(director/writer: Ekwa Msangi; cinematographer: Bruce Francis Cole ; editors: Jeanne Applegate, Justin Chan; music: Osei Essed; cast: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (Walter), Zainab Jah (Esther), Jayme Lawson (Sylvia), Joie Lee (Nzingha), Marcus Scribner (DJ), Nana Mensah (Linda); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Huriyyah Muhammad, Josh Penn, Sam Bisbee, Ekwa Msangi, Joe Plummer, Bobby Allen; IFC Release/Outrageous Pictures; 2020)
“A well-observed debut feature film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The culture clash drama about an African immigrant family coming to America for a reunion after being apart for 17 years, while waiting for proper visas, is a well-observed debut feature film by director-writer Ekwa Msangi. It’s a remake of a short film she did a few years ago. The film is divided into 3 chapters, telling the story from the POV of each main character. It tells of a family separated by a civil war in Angola and finally reuniting, but as strangers.
Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), an Angolan refugee, who just broke up with his lover (Nana Mensah), works as a taxi driver in NYC. After 17 years of not seeing his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and teenage daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson), he greets them awkwardly at the airport of their new country and takes them to his tiny one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment.
The devoutly religious Esther tries her best to navigate this strange country with a husband who is now a stranger, and tries to battle her loneliness. She strikes up a friendship with her sassy neighbor (Joie Lee, Spike’s sister) which helps her loneliness subside.
The sullen and cautious daughter loves to dance, but in Africa was not permitted to do so by her strict mom. But in America she pursues her passion by maneuvering her way into a school step-contest to find hope in her new country and maybe find a love interest in a DJ (Marcus Scribner).
The father-daughter relationship is strained, as Walter is clueless in how to be a father to a daughter he never knew. Meanwhile Esther’s religious fundamentalism doesn’t go over well with the family, but she won’t yield her beliefs. Meanwhile, the disappointed Walter tries to hook up again with his former lover.
Each character is viewed sympathetically, each trying to find a way to adapt to their new situation. The immigrant plight story is on familiar grounds, as there’s difficult times for each ahead.
REVIEWED ON 12/182020 GRADE: B