As the daughter of a Nigerian immigrant, many of my formative years were spent trying to please my father. Though it was unspoken, I was expected to thrive both academically and socially. I dared not dream of following the crowd, and there was no wide berth given for any girlish teenage slip-ups. Luckily, I loved learning and school, so a great deal of the time I held up my end of the bargain. However, when I didn’t, when I wasn’t interested in taking a higher-level math course in high school or learning more about my Nigerian ancestry, a storm would brew between the two of us, incinerating everyone who stood in our paths.
In Yoruba, the phrase “dara ju” means “best,” and that was what my father wanted me to strive for. And in his feature-length directorial debut of the same name, director Anthony Onah explores what it means to cling onto that standard while experiencing immense pressure in every aspect of your life.
In “Dara Ju,” we meet 24-year old Seyi (played by Aml Ameen), a tightly wound and ambitious Wall Street trader who is finding it increasingly difficult to balance his two worlds. Through Onah’s use of tight frames that capture Seyi’s face and mannerisms, we watch as he travels from his tiny apartment in downtown Manhattan to the finance company where he works, Brown Harmon, each day. Dressed pristinely in tailored suits, Seyi is desperate to prove himself despite his coworkers undermining him at every turn. On the weekends, putting on his façade of the dutiful son, Seyi travels to his parents’ home in Hackensack, New Jersey where his mother and sister Funmi constantly care for his ailing and unyielding father.
Onah’s willingness to deal with the messiness of familial obligations is painfully refreshing in this film. Though his father is desperate to recover from his stroke in order to travel to his homeland once more, Seyi simply goes through the motions in terms of the care he affords his father, resenting the time and money spent caring for a man he no longer respects. It’s evident that some astronomical incident has created a gaping hole in their father/son relationship, and it seems beyond repair.
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