The Nigerian dream of hitting it big, and the search for greener pastures is now on a steep rise, as the spans of insurgency widen and corruption clings to every sector of the economy. This dream, boldened by prospects of quick success abroad, makes many Nigerians and citizens of the third-world subscribers to the “Japa syndrome.” However, these countries are pushing back. The wave of the migration crisis is a testament to this fact, leaving so many migrants in the clutters of illegal residency.
This is why the story of the NBA players and Greek-Nigerians, the Antetokounmpo Brothers (pronounced Adetokunbo), portrayed in film in the new biopic ‘Rise,’ is a timely and important movie. The movie is an apt portrayal of the themes of bond with family – a family forged by love, sacrifice and the desire to make it out of the trenches. The movie, directed by Akin Omotoso and streaming on Disney+, brings the themes of migration and family to the fore, effectively telling a narrative infused with reality and struggle.The movie, opening with the near escape into the Greek borders by Charles and Vera Antetokounmpo, characterized by the brilliant Dayo Okeniyi and Yetide Badaki respectively, plunges the viewership into the struggle of migrants in their search for betterment, often marred by bureaucracy and systemic discrimination. The parents are plagued with instability and low financial incomes, exemplified by the constant run of the family from the Greek police and the regular search for “distinguished” jobs by Charles Antetokounmpo to cater for the family, pay rent and fulfil the requirements for the registration for residency slated by the Greek Immigration Office.
So, the movie is a portrayal of realities. Plunging into the narrative, these circumstances affect the Antetokounmpo Brothers, who are forced to grow up under these stringent conditions, in constant fear of hunger and deportation. Giannis and Thanasis (played by actual brothers Uche Agada and Ral Agada) are seen to share shoes to enable them to play on the basketball pitch, amidst jeers from their teammates. This aptly validates the narrative that greener pastures may not be more abundant off the Nigerian borders and that poverty is definitely not zoned to the Nigerian geography.
Rise is also a celebration of sacrifice. The narrative is punctuated by the sacrifice of the Antetokounmpo parents by leaving their first child, Francis, with the family in Nigeria. Also, Charles Antetokounmpo, once harbouring the dreams of his children becoming footballers, sacrifices his dream upon realization of their fascination with basketball. Giannis and the family also place trust in the rookie representative and scout, Kevin Stefanides, at the expense of immediate compensation by other scouts, who later steer Giannis to the almost impossible, upon his admission into the NBA Draft into the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013.Also, the movie is a celebration of African excellence and identity, albeit pointing to the many challenges facing the exportation of African talent. Despite the constant problems faced by the family, the family finds comfort in the realization that they are better positioned for opportunities in Greece where they are on illegal residency than in their home country, Nigeria, where they had to sacrifice all for a fresh start. Also, the change of the family name from Adetokunbo to Antetokounmpo, which is a clear indication of systemic discrimination and the absence of political correctness, does not deter the family, who is consoled by the fact they would be aware of their own identities from Nigeria. Also, the constant references to the Yoruba language and infusion of Afrobeats into soundtracks in the movie (evident in tracks from Christy Igbokwe, Fela Kuti and Fireboy DML) and its balance with a western balance is a pointer to the joint citizenship and identities heralded by the Antetokounmpo Brothers.
The movie is punctuated by excellent acting and screenplay, showing the dexterity of its producers, screenwriters and director. Also, its visuals are gripping and telling, thereby efficiently complementing the narrative. Rise is a big win towards the effective telling of the African story, fastened by bond, love and sacrifice, and the well-documented and chronological filmmaking process, perhaps aided by the fact that it was executively produced by the Milwaukee Bucks forward and two-time league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is a clear testament to these.Rise heralds a deft change for the effective telling of the African story, better amplified to Western audiences. The fact that it is backed by the streaming giant, Disney+, is crucial to the telling of this narrative, and the clear caution of the Antetokounmpo Brothers in telling their story to glory without excluding the Africanness makes the story more relatable and inspiring. Rise is a portrayal of clear realities, of the dreams we collectively harbour, and how a family is fastened by love, sacrifice and identity.
Rise is currently streaming on Disney+.
Director: Akin Omotoso
Screenwriter: Arash Amel
Producer: Bernie Goldman
TFC Rating: 4.5/5