Thursday, October 23, 2014

19 Days Later, The Good Lie Comes to Connecticut Theaters- @UNICEFAfrica @EmmanuelJal

Emmanuel Jal in Birmingham, Alabama
In 2013, the Great Whatever introduced the narrative of Emmanuel Jal to my world. I was presenting at the Urban Sites Conference of the National Writing Project, and part of our experience was a collaboration with the Civil Rights museum in Birmingham. Emmanuel Jal performed at an event and, because of my work with relocated Sudanese families, he and I had an evening to talk and think. At the time, he was filming The Good Lie with Reese Witherspoon and signing copies of War Child: A Child Soldier's Story.

The work I do with relocated youth continues at Fairfield University (see Ubuntu Academy) and I've been scanning theater websites since October 2nd waiting for the film to debut. For the last few weeks I've been talking with schools as they read Outcasts United and next week I will be with Greenwich High School for a discussion of the book. The librarian at the school let me know that UNICEF was having a special screening of the film so I bought tickets for some of my students at Fairfield University and a few youth I've been working with in Connecticut.
On the set of THE GOOD LIE

Since arriving to Fairfield University I have been teaching the Sudanese narrative of relocation and sharing with both undergrad and graduate students about the continued struggle of individuals who are part of the 1% relocated to the United States. These narratives parallel those of Liberians, Somali Bantus, Eritreans, Rwandans, and Congolese. To know the conflicts they've endured is to have a better understanding of global relations, colonial histories, and 21st century industries. To know America and our place, it is important to know Sudan and its place.

I went to the screening with critical doubt of how a 'fictional' story would be portrayed through Hollywood (even if Richie Cunningham - Ron Howard - was the director). The trailer made it seem that it would be a story of Reese Witherspoon and I worried about historical accuracy, cultural sensitivity, and American sensationalism. I learned from my attendance, however, that the efforts of those behind the film were rather acute and I recognized lines from documentaries, NY Times articles, CBS News, and 60 minutes.

The Good Lie hit me emotionally and intellectually on a number of levels and although Reese Witherspoon's character was two-dimensional, I felt her connection for helping young men and women struggling on American soils. It is a monumental task for many and it is a journey that is hard to explain...we can never do enough.

Quinn, Evan, and John
I had my eye on Emmanuel Jal, however, and felt he made the character of Peter very convincing. Arnold Oceng, Femi Oguns, and Ger Duany were also wonderful in their roles, representing the Sudanese narrative with conviction and sincerity. Kuoeth Wiel, too, was simply stunning on the big screen. I am sure, for them, the theatrics were also remembrances of times in their lives that were extremely difficult.

I am only one of many who have become involved in refugee relocation in the United States and, although I'm a literacy teacher and scholar, I will continue to advocate for global stories in the work I do. It was an honor to bring students from my English courses and Chitunga with me to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience with them. Although we couldn't stay for the discussion after the screening, we were thrilled to see actress Maria Howell when she was brought in. She is a phenomenal actress and more beautiful in person (she responded to my Tweet from that night, too - whoa!).

It will take me a while to process the film, but for now I'm saying, "Thumbs Up, Peter." You continue to inspire me in all that you do. I hope one day our paths cross again.

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