Migration was on the big screen at the most recent edition of the Berlinale, the Berlin film festival. One of the films with that subject at its heart was "Eyimofe" (This is my desire), a Nigerian film that examined dreams of migration through two characters living in Lagos. InfoMigrants caught up with the film’s director and screenwriter, brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri.
"Overseas!" declares Precious, the sister of main character Mofe, played by Jude Akuwudike, with delight, just a few minutes into Eyimofe. Precious is celebrating the fact that Mofe has just obtained a passport. "I will transfer the money into your account tomorrow," she says, shaking her head, her smile spreading across her face.
desire to migrate and the promise of overseas hangs heavy over
Eyimofe and many of the inhabitants of Lagos. Although the film takes
place entirely in Lagos, Nigeria, the film itself is split into two
chapters entitled "Spain" and then "Italy." We never see
either of these countries in the film but the hope that they can
magically transform daily life is omnipresent.
'Migration is widely discussed in Nigeria'
is widely discussed in Nigeria," explains Arie Esiri, Eyimofe's
director. "One of the main topics of discussion is politics back
home ... and with that comes this question of 'when are things going
to change?' and if they are not then 'when do I get out and make
my life better?' and that covers all socio-economic backgrounds and
and his brother Chuko Esiri both studied in the UK and the US, so
they are no strangers to the idea of migration themselves. Arie uses
an example from their personal life to illustrate his point. US President Donald Trump's recent announcement of a travel ban on Nigeria made people like him,
his brother and their family question "what needs to change on our
migration status?" in order to be able to take advantage of all the
contacts and skills they have built up in the US during their
studies. It is something you are always conscious of, he underlines.
Challenges of holding a Nigerian passport
in the interview, he mentions again, how just holding a Nigerian
passport comes with challenges that holders of a European passport
might never face. You always need to be conscious of making sure you
have the right visas and you know what to apply for, says Arie. Even
getting to the Berlinale set up its own challenges, he adds. "We
are lucky though, I know we can call people up and explain what has
happened to us and they will sort it. We can read and write and apply
for our own visas," but the characters in their film do not have
such an easy time of it.Mofe is
illiterate. He has to rely on middlemen to tell him about the
documents he needs and then help him fill out the forms in order to
apply for a passport or a visa. "This Kafkaesque life has sort of
always existed," says Chuko referring to the labyrinthine
bureaucracy in Nigeria. "There is always a form to be filled, it
has just always been that way."
Instead of focusing on the journey to Europe, which they feel is told all the time in the west, the brothers wanted to shine a light on the daily lives of people in Nigeria and why they might feel that migrating was their only option. As the film progresses, like the patience of their leading man Mofe, they quietly turn that idea on its head too.
You need money to migrate
The saintly patience of Mofe seems required in order to deal with daily life in Lagos. But what is needed to fulfill a desire to migrate is money. Money is needed at every turn in the film. To pay for the next stage in a visa process or health care check or to get a body released for burial.Chuko explains that in writing the film he "wanted to show individuals and what they are coming from and what they are going through," in order to migrate.
Sick of the headlines in Europe which tend to
portray all Nigerian women as aspiring prostitutes waiting to be
launched on European soil and all men as cheats or drug dealers, it
was important for him to try and portray the context of what life is
like in Nigeria for many of these people. The trials and tribulations
which feeds this desire to migrate. Chuko wanted to underline that
the majority "are not bad people, the very opposite. When you read
about this 'chap was caught and has been deported,' he was
probably working two jobs back at home and trying to keep his family
afloat and doing his very best."Exactly
like both of the film's main characters Mofe and Rosa. Mofe works
as an electrician at a factory by day and at night as a security
guard. Rosa, played by Temi Ami-Williams works in a hairdressers during the day and as a bartender
at night. Both of them want to do their best for their sisters and
their growing families. It is the family which makes them think that
they can only improve their situations through migration.
Seeking an opportunity
hopes to arrive in Spain one day and Rosa and her sister Grace in
Italy. Neither of them seem to have ideas about what these other
countries might look like, just that they have to offer an opportunity
to better themselves which they have not found in Nigeria.The outcomes for both characters, like their lives, are a little different and they both face different challenges. Nigeria is a very patriarchal society, agree both brothers. Through the character of Rosa, "we
wanted to talk a bit about what it is to be a young woman in
Nigeria," says Chuko. Many of those situations "are just not
pretty. There are so many ways in which one leaves, or attempts to
leave," he adds. In fact, the ending for Rosa is tinged with the compromises that many women are forced to make. The only freedom to be had is dictating some of the terms of the 'prison' they enter.
Yet while working within those parameters, the brothers also wanted to upend some of the other cliches the audience might have about the women who migrate. The usual narrative of a woman who will stop at nothing to reach her goal is softened and blurred in the character of Rosa. On the one hand, she appears willing to trade her sister’s unborn baby for a chance to make it to Italy and does ask her American boyfriend for a new phone, expensive perfumes and money for the rent. But the brothers are at pains to point out that they think she genuinely wanted to pursue a romance with Peter and is not just out for what she can get.Similarly, when Grace loses her baby and Rosa starts to realize what the reality might be of the "work" that she and her sister will have to perform in Italy, she appears to think again.
Staying in Lagos
end of the film, both characters are still in Lagos. The desire turns
out not to be so much about migrating but “to have a chance at
succeeding,” says Chuko. "I wanted to keep them in Nigeria
because sometimes, we don’t see what is right in front of us. Mofe
finds his desire and an opportunity to take care of his family in
Nigeria." Chuko says he wanted the viewers to understand that yes,
life might be difficult but that there "is a possibility that you
will find what you are looking for in Nigeria too."This
ending played well to audiences within Nigeria. "They really
appreciated it," says Chuko. "The money it costs you, to get your
papers, to get out of the country, a lot of Nigerians felt if you put
that money into something else, or if you tried to build something at
home then you may get an opportunity there too."
This chimes with the brother’s own desire to be inspired by their home country. They could have stayed in the US, they say, "but I wanted to be home and to tell stories from home. It is a place that inspires me and that I love very much," concludes Chuko.