By Kathryn Kelman/ ne news editor
In the Nigerian Yoruba language, “dara ju” means “better.”
In his film Dara Ju, first-time writer/director Anthony Onah explores what it means for immigrants to be and do “better” in fast-paced 21st century America.
The film follows Seyi, the 24-year-old son of two Nigerian immigrants, and he is played by Aml Ameen from Sense 8 and The Maze Runner.
Seyi, a hard-working Harvard graduate learning to navigate the cutthroat world of the New York City financial industry, initially comes across as the ideal child of a first-generation family.
However, throughout the film, it’s clear that Seyi is not that model child. As he struggles to balance the stress of his job, frequent micro-aggressions and responsibilities to his family, he develops addictions to Adderall and cocaine, engages in criminal activity and has a romantic relationship full of secrets and lies.
The film is a deeply personal story for Onah, who immigrated from Nigeria to the U.S. when he was 10. But the screenplay is messy, and the film is unfocused with too many subplots for the story and characters to develop wholly.
The film does deliver genuine scenes that explore the tough choices people face while trying to fit into a culture that differs greatly from that of their parents, but the gaps in character development keep the romantic and drug subplots from making much sense.
The audience is told Seyi is using Adderall and eventually cocaine to keep up at work but is never shown how. This also happens with his relationship that goes from a bad first date to meeting the parents in record time.
As for Seyi’s criminal activity, instead of exploring his strained relationship with his father, Onah pushes Seyi toward a poorly dramatized financial thriller with the insider trading and paranoia that come with it.
Seyi doesn’t even cheat to get ahead. He just cheats to stay even with the co-workers that constantly undermine him.
The majority of the film focuses on illustrating his struggle to define “better” for himself, which makes the criminal activity subplot distracting at best and overdramatic at worst.
Despite the film losing track of some of the details along the way, Dara Ju overall delivers on the director’s promise to share a piece of the immigrant experience that needs to be told.
Dara Ju had its world premiere at Austin’s SXSW Film Festival back in March, but the film has not been released to theaters or DVD/ Blu-ray yet.