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I Am Slave
Genre Drama
 
Review:

Slavery is not dead. Just like leprosy, slavery has been relegated to the past. Films like Amazing Grace recount William Wilberforce's influence in leading a 26 year campaign leading to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Yet, there are about 5,000 'slave' workers in Britain today - a startling fact considering the Slave Trade Act was instituted in 1807. I Am Slave is based on the true life story of Mende Nazer, who was abducted and sold into slavery as a child in Sudan.

Malia, a twelve-year-old girl, is abducted in the Nubar Mountains after being separated from her father (De Bankole) after an attack on their village. The young girl is sold into the slave trade, forced to serve under a family in Khartoum, where she is abused with no pay for hard labour for six years. The story begins in London, where Malia (Mosaku) has been relocated to continue her duties under a new master, who confiscates her passport and "imprisons" her as her father attempts to reunite.

I Am Slave is an important film and a bleak depiction of just how cruel some parts of modern society remain. The Stoning of Soraya M. exposed the ancient and barbaric tradition of stoning in some Arab states, while I Am Slave sheds light on slavery, another shocking act against humanity that continues today. Both The Stoning of Soraya M. and I Am Slave are low budget independent films that demonstrate the indelible power of telling someone's story through the medium of film.

As an audience, we're able to see life from another person's perspective, vicariously live through them and with them in all of the heartache, pain and suffering. I Am Slave's title and contentious issues would probably deter viewers from subjecting themselves to this story, yet its as difficult as watching a documentary. These contentious issues hit home because we as audience members are exposed to injustice, forced to empathise, compelled to act and educated on what's going on behind closed doors.

Gabriel Range (Death of a President) directs a harrowing drama, which has the gravity of a documentary, the weight of reality and the intensity of a hostage drama. In many ways, Jeremy Brock's screenplay could very well be a hostage movie given the subject matter and nature of slavery. The Last King of Scotland screenwriter has composed a film that threads the naked truth into something of a thriller as Malia tries to escape the clutches of her oppressive mistresses.

Brock and Range have etched an uplifting message of hope against the darkness of the human heart. One woman's tragedy has become a figurehead for freedom to those still trapped in slavery. Hope is what keeps Malia from doing the unthinkable. As a viewer, you find yourself comparing your own perceived response to Malia's injustice and wrongful "imprisonment". Murder, suicide, escape... I Am Slave has a similar claustrophobic intensity and theme to Chilean drama-thriller, The Maid.

Beautiful actress, Wunmi Mosaku, lives the character of Malia - experiencing the debilitating, soul-destroying life of a slave. Range shows Malia's journey through the eyes of an innocent girl. Her mistresses exploit her, punish her and torture her, yet she remains in a state of grace... hurt by her oppressors, yet peaceful - open to experiencing the glimmers of joy in working with her enemy's children. I Am Slave walks a fine line without manipulating the audience. The right balance has been achieved without resorting to melodrama or gratuity.

Isaach De Bankole plays Bah, Malia's champion wrestler father, whose quest for his daughter could have been a film in itself. Bah follows Malia over a number of years, discovering that she's been transferred to London. The father-daughter relationship in I Am Slave is integral to the message of hope and the dynamic translates well into raw emotional power as their spirits draw closer.

While I Am Slave is an intense and powerful film, there are aspects that dilute its overall impact. The choice to have all the dialogue in English could be attributed to the film's reach. Whether it was intended to power home in Britain, be more accessible to audiences or entice more cinemas is a noble trait for such an important film. Subtitles would certainly narrow the scope of a film like I Am Slave, unfortunately this detracts from the hard-hitting authenticity, alienation of otherness and crushing reality of Mende Nazer's story.

Then the film is short at about 77 minutes. I Am Slave is not something to say you enjoyed, but it may feel a little too short and sharp for audiences to feel satisfied in terms of entertainment value. Approaching this important account shouldn't be about entertainment, but rather experience, which is why most would be relieved to leave after a short, yet blistering walk in Malia's shoes. I Am Slave functions a bit like a documentary, which is why the powerful ending catches you on the back foot.

All in all, I Am Slave is a quality production that delivers its message by giving you a chance to live through the eyes of Malia. The performances are honest, the true story is powerful and the film is delivered with a good balance of sensationalism and sensitivity - making its journey dark, yet ultimately empowering.

The bottom line: Powerful.

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