A Twin Cities-produced movie examines several issues facing African immigrants in schools.
After enduring an onslaught of verbal and physical abuse at his new Minnesota public school, the young African immigrant is now weighing the most extreme option.
Rhonda is the main character in a provocative new independent film shot in Brooklyn Center and produced in the Twin Cities that unmasks bullying and other struggles that new African immigrant students endure in American schools.
The film, “Boys Cry: A Story of Immigrant Survival,” premiered last week at the Mall of America V. I. P. Theatre. The full-length feature film is fiction but based on true-life, according to its makers. It was co-produced by Brooklyn Center-based End Time Harvest Productions and Ham Lake-based Triwar Pictures.
The film confronts controversial themes, including school violence and a culture of silence and shame around bullying, as well as tensions between the African-American and African immigrant communities. Brooklyn Park businessman-turned-End Harvest filmmaker Reggie Anderson and Triwar filmmaker Nicole Kruex collaborated on the story. Triwar’s Mitchel Jones directed the production.
The movie was filmed in part at Brooklyn Center High School. Brooklyn Center police officers make cameo appearances playing police officers.
The community has rallied around the film. Brooklyn Center Police Chief Kevin Benner and retired Brooklyn Center Superintendent Keith Lester attended the premiere. Former Maple Lake Mayor Mike O’Loughlin played a teacher in the movie.
The film has been nominated in 11 categories for the 2013 Nollywood & African Film Critics Awards (NAFCA).
Monique Drier, community liaison for Brooklyn Center Police Department, said the police have worked with Anderson before. Still, they carefully considered lending their name and image to the film.
“We have had a really good relationship with Reggie. We really felt he’s very sincere and credible, and incredible to work with, very respectful. They were just great partners. We need more community partners like this to be able to help youth,” said Drier, who also attended the premier.
Students struggle in silence
Anderson created the story after hearing about bullying and other struggles immigrant students face.
“It’s not just a movie. For us, it’s a movement and a message,” said actress and producer Celi Marie Dean. “We choose film to be our action, our voice.”
Anderson, who immigrated from western Africa to flee civil war, did not realize his son had endured similar bullying until making the film.
His son, Elijah Kondeh, now a 23-year-old senior at St. Cloud State University, read the script and divulged to his father that he, too, had endured extreme bullying. He agreed to star in the film.
The movie cost less than $10,000 to make, and most actors agreed to work for free, Anderson said. If the film makes money, actors will receive some compensation, he said.
“When you are emotionally invested, you can do a lot with a little,” Anderson said.
That experience of bullying is not exclusive to Elijah Kondeh, either. Many of the young cast members, American and foreign-born, shared their personal stories of school bullying during the filming.