Preview: I Am Slave

So I’ve been waiting to publish something on this film for ages but it’s been embargoed – boo! The film folks at Channel 4 have only recently been given a broadcast date for the memorable I Am Slave– Monday 30th August 8:30pm. You really don’t want to miss this.

The story follows 12-year-old Malia who finds herself in the service of a wealthy Arab family in Khartoum after her village in the Nuba mountains is destroyed by militia. After one too many innocent transgressions of youth, she is shipped her off to London where she is trapped behind the net curtains of a secret suburban prison.

Courtesy of BAFTA, I was able to sit in on a screening and Q&A with the director Gabriel Range, lead Wunmi Mosaku and producer Andrea Calderwood. Here’s why you need to see this film:

1. It’s not as “worthy” as I’m making it sound because it’s so very well scripted. The characters and events are based on the real story of Mende Nazer who escaped the family holding her as a domestic slave in 2000. Writer Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland) has skillfully dramatised her life with a remarkable regard for language. The script is sparse, Malia isn’t allowed to talk. Her personality is bound but actress Wunmi Mosaku’s performance will stay with you.

2. Which brings me to my second point. The acting is faultless. Mosaku is the reason I’ve been thinking about this film for 5 weeks and counting. With so few lines, her performance is a good 80% physical. Maliais striped of her identity, from her passport to her toys and clothes, she is stifled by the family who bought her. Mosaku is also well supported by great performances fromYigal Naor, the family driver, Lubna Azabal, the whip cracker and Isaach De Bankole, Malia’s father.

3. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the lights come up and the credits roll to audible sobs from the audience. Mostly from Mende, who was brave enough to see the film for the first time with an audience and key members of the cast and crew, there also seemed to be tears from every corner of the theatre. (Despite what my family will tell you after I got a little teary-eyed when Dr. Green died in ER,) I’m not particularly weepy but I’ll admit I had a mighty lump in my throat by the end of I Am Slave despite it’s lack of cheese.

Another issue highlighted at the Q&A by the audience is the importance of the film ahead of the South Sudan Referendums in 2011. These will decide the next chapter in the history of the people of the Nuba Mountains, currently one of the most vulnerable peoples in the region.

The film will be aired after Dispatches: Britain’s Secret Slaves (7.30pm), so Channel 4 will seem like they’re on a bit of a mission but I Am Slave is awakening enough on it’s own.

The full (but shorter) preview is on the Spoonfed Blog.

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