SXSW: Dara Ju

Seyi has a good life: he’s handsome, Harvard-educated, has a great job on Wall Street, and a budding new relationship. You might assume that this Nigerian immigrant is living the American Dream, but things are actually much more complicated than that. His family places heavy demands on his time, his money, his emotional well-being. His mother guilts him with “Family sticks together” while holding her hand out. So he lies about his family to his new girlfriend, who suspects something’s up and doesn’t appreciate his reticence. Wall Street comes with enormous pressure to achieve, and snorting drugs turns out to not be enough in terms of keeping up, so Seyi eyes up some more nefarious options. And then there’s, you know, racism in the air, because it doesn’t pass you by just because you wear a fancy suit to work. Safe to say his plate’s heaped really high and nothing is turning out the way he thought. Ooof.

MV5BYWUxZGVkYTgtNWUxNi00Y2ZjLTk2NDctYTYwN2RmYTczNjdkL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDY5NzA2Ng@@._V1_Aml Ameen is enormously good as Seyi. Not all of the cast is as strong as this, but I also really enjoyed Michael Hyatt, who plays his mother. There is dysfunction, drama, and heartbreak between the two and I could have watched a whole movie just about their dynamic. In fact, this movie would be improved had it narrowed its focus just a little. Seyi’s burdens are great but they result in a lot of sub-plots that aren’t well-served in a 90 minute run time. That said, I can’t believe this is writer-director Anthony Onah’s first feature film. He’s already got a polished style that belies a lot of talent. Onah is also a Nigerian-born Harvard grad, so his script is informed if a little busy.

Onah explained that Dara Ju means “Better”, and is meant as a nod to the immigrant’s aspirations. Certainly this dichotomy between ambition and obligation is what’s most interesting about Dara Ju. As much as Seyi embraces his American life, his family will always tie him back to the homeland. This is a fascinating look at the immigrant experience and it’s a bold first work from a soon to be famous director.

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