I Am Slave – The Movie
I just watched the film “I Am Slave”.
It is a powerful story based on the real-life events of author and human rights advocate Mende Nazer.
Unlike many other dramas and movies based on the issue of Modern-Slavery, ‘I Am Slave’ aims to be accurate over sensational. It is visually driven with very little dialogue. The cinematography is beautiful. The story is true. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. My friend described it well by saying that the film was a little flat, especially in the beginning, and at times I felt like maybe I had missed something. The film is really carried by the strong facial expressions of Nigerian actress Wunmi Mosaku (who plays the main character Malia), and by the end of the movie, the power of this true story has won you over.
Based on the life of Mende Nazer, a Sudanese woman who was kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of 12, and who after 6 years of slavery in the home of a wealthy Arab family in Khartoum, was sent to work as a household slave in London. Eventually, she escapes with the help of a sympathetic Sudanese friend.
Throughout the film, main character Malia is portrayed as having opposing forces at work in her, a slave who is defeated through abuse and degradation, but also a Nuban Princess who is proud by birthright. Sometimes she shows moments of extreme courage, other times fear, but the underlying message is that despite many set-backs she does not give up.
From the perspective of Human Trafficking, there is a lot we can learn from this movie.
In South Africa, the second highest incidences of Human Trafficking that we have encountered have been women and children trafficked for the purpose of domestic work. They are sold to a family as a household slave. This type of Human Trafficking is often not as widely recognized as sex trafficking. But it is just as exploitative and traumatic. Anyone watching this film will have to grapple with the idea that in every city there is a hidden population of people living without their freedom.
Something else we can learn has to do with why a person doesn’t escape from a their traffickers. Twice we see Malia has the opportunity to leave the house where she is enslaved, but both times, being a foreigner in a strange city with no money, friends, or awareness of her surroundings, she has no option but to return ‘willingly’ to her slave-holders. From this we can better understand why so often trafficking victims who appear to have ample opportunity to escape, don’t. It was only when a third party recognized her need for help did Malia become empowered enough to run for good. This once again highlights the need for members of the community to speak up when they see a situation that does not look right.
Finally, the moment of Malia’s escape does come, and through it is displayed some of the most powerful truths regarding modern slavery. As her hand is on the doorknob, the woman who has kept her captive comes down the stairs and sees Malia leaving. She then begins to threaten the girl, and even attempts to guilt her into staying. It was only when Malia mentally made the decision to leave that she was able to go. So much of what keeps a person trapped is the psychological impact that a trafficker has on their victim. It is the fear, the threats, the guilt, and the lack of knowledge regarding their rights that can keep an individual enslaved.
Altogether, I found the movie inspiring. Having read the book I was rather underwhelmed (the book is just so much better!), but I thought actress Wunmi Mosaku did a brilliant job, particularly in the final scene of the movie. I loved that it was not too sensational and believe ‘I Am Slave’ will go a long way in raising awareness with its audience on the realities of modern slavery.
I would recommend watching this movie if you want a 90-minute, appropriate for most audiences, education on Human Trafficking.
I would HIGHLY recommend reading the book ‘Slave’ by Mende Nazer if you want to be moved by the incredible true story of woman’s fight for freedom and want to not only be education on modern slavery, but impacted by the complexities of one persons incredible journey.
The film ‘I Am Slave’ is currently showing at Cinema Nouveau theatres in South Africa.