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5 Films That Remind Us That Immigrants Make America

On June 23, the Supreme Court announced a disappointing 4-4 ruling in the U.S. vs Texas case determining whether President Obama's 2014 immigration relief programs can go into effect. A tied decision from the Supreme

On June 23, the Supreme Court announced a disappointing 4-4 ruling in the U.S. vs Texas case determining whether President Obama’s 2014 immigration relief programs can go into effect. A tied decision from the Supreme Court means that the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+) programs will not be implemented. Since November 2014, millions of deserving, undocumented residents have been waiting  to benefit from DAPA and the expansion of DACA.


This, however, is not the end for them, as the immigrant experience often consists of overcoming many obstacles and challenges. Listed below are 5 great films that explore this experience from multiple vantage points.


Lost Boys of Sudan:

Lost Boys of Sudan follows two teenage Sudanese refugees on an extraordinary journey from Africa to America, offering a gripping and sobering peek into the myth of the American Dream. In the late 80s, Islamic fundamentalists in Sudan waged war on the country’s separatists leaving behind over 20,000 male orphans otherwise known as “lost boys.” For those who survived this traumatic ordeal and found their way to refugee camps, some were chosen to participate in a resettlement program in America, a distant place so presumably full of hope and opportunity that the Sudanese sometimes call it Heaven. Yet what if a free ticket to “Heaven” turned out to be anything but? Sidestepping conventional voice-over narration in favor of real-time close-quarters poignancy, Lost Boys of Sudan focuses on two members of the Dinka tribe, Santino and Peter, during their first life-altering year in the United States. Safe at last from physical danger but a world away from home the boys must grapple with extreme cultural differences as they come to understand both the abundance and alienation of contemporary American life.


Restless City:

Young Djibril (Sy Alassane) emigrated from West Africa to the United States with a hope of making it as a musician, but after residing in Harlem for four years, he’s stuck hawking CDs to pedestrians. In an effort to raise enough money to make an album, Djibril decides to work with Bekay (Anthony Okungbowa), a loan shark and pimp. But Djibril’s quest for financial success is interrupted when he meets and falls in love with Trini (Sky Nicole Grey), a prostitute working for Bekay.


Restless City is an expressive and deeply felt collection of sequences structured around the theme of the isolation among the population of immigrants living in New York. Director Andrew Dosunmu has a breathtaking eye for compositions that evoke the simultaneous mystery, splendor, and loneliness of life in a bustling community.



The classic story of Roots is retold in this miniseries based on Alex Haley‘s 1976 novel. The show paints a portrait of American slavery through the journey of a family that has a will to survive through many hardships. Malachi Kirby stars as Kunta Kinte, a proud and educated young man who uses those traits to empower himself when he is captured and sold into slavery. While he is enslaved, he challenges his fellow slaves to fight for their freedom as he continues working toward achieving his dream of escaping and returning to his homeland of The Gambia. The miniseries also stars Emmy winner Laurence Fishburne as Haley; Grammy nominee Anika Noni Rose as Kunta’s daughter, Kizzy, who is bought by farmer Tom Lea (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who rapes and impregnates her; and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker as slave musician Fiddler, who mentors Kunta.


Coming to America

Prince Akeem, (Eddie Murphy) as the heir of the fictional wealthy African country Zamunda, wants for nothing, except a wife who will love him in spite of his title. To escape an arranged marriage, Akeem flees to America to find his queen with the company and guidance of his persnickety sidekick, Semmi (Arsenio Hall). Disguised as a foreign student working in fast food, he romances Lisa (Shari Headley), but struggles with revealing both his true identity to her and his marital intentions to his father, the king (James Earl Jones).


The Good Lie

Mamere and Theo are sons of the Chief in their Southern Sudanenese village. When an attack by the Northern militia destroys their home and kills their parents, the eldest son Theo is forced to assume the role of Chief and lead a group of young survivors, including his sister Abital, away from harm. As the tattered group makes the difficult trek to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, they meet other fleeing children, forging a bond with Jeremiah, who, at 13, is already a man of faith, and Paul, whose skills become essential to their survival. Thirteen years later, the now young adults are given the opportunity to leave the camp and resettle in America.


Upon arriving in Kansas, they are met by Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon), an employment agency counselor who has been enlisted to help find them jobs—which is no easy task, when items like straws, light switches and telephones are brand new to them. Although Carrie has successfully kept herself from any emotional entanglements, she realize it is important for these refuges who desperately require help navigating the 20th century and rebuilding their shattered lives.



Debo Folorunsho
Debo Folorunsho serves as CEO of Applause Africa Communications and Executive Producer of the African Diaspora Awards. He has worked in Visual Design at Music Creative Group, Warner Music Communications and Design Group, and Permission Data.
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