New film ‘Aisha’ gives a voice to those seeking asylum says Letitia Wright

Letitia Wright

‘Aisha’, a new film written and directed by Frank Berry and starring Letitia Wright (Black Panther) shines a light on asylum and the Direct Provision system.

The Direct Provision system has been a source of controversy for two decades. Yet, the subject is rarely talked about or had much of a platform on film or television.

Letitia Wright plays Aisha Osagie, a young Nigerian woman who has come to Ireland seeking asylum, after having been sexually assaulted and having witnessed her father and brothers being murdered back home. There she develops a connection with Conor Healy, played by Josh O’Connor, a security guard she meets at the Direct Provision centre.

We see Aisha navigate her way through the long, bureaucratic and often dehumanising Direct Provision process, where she is under constant threat of deportation, denied basic rights such as privacy or the ability to cook her own food, and frequently moved from place to place with little or no notice, as she, and other refugees fight to remain in Ireland.

Many are women from Africa who face being forced into sex work or who face death (along with their families) if they return to their own countries.

Irish writer-director Frank Berry, who is known for producing socially conscious films, realised while researching his previous film, Michael Inside, about a young teen who ends up in prison, that the Department of Justice oversees both the criminal justice system and the Direct Provision system, and moreover that the majority of the centres were developed for profit basis and are run by private contractors with the rules of business often superseding those of care.

As part of his research for the film, he spoke with Lucky Khambule of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), and people directly affected by Direct Provision, hearing similar stories about the reality of life in Direct Provision centres, including the general feeling of being treated like prisoners, and the loss of identity by being labelled as just asylum seekers.

Berry said: “When someone’s looking at you and telling you their experiences, you feel it very, very deeply. We need a system that’s more mindful of human rights…With dignity, with medical care – and all those fundamental human rights that are outlined by the UN. The system as it is – and as it was – doesn’t respect those rights.”

Letitia  took a break from the filming of Black Panther to take part in the small-budget film, as she felt very connected to the issues depicted within the film and felt it would go some way to giving a voice to those who are so often portrayed as mere statistics.

She said: “I felt like Aisha had meaning and purpose and could say something. I definitely felt a responsibility to be a vessel for her voice. I try to pick projects that will feel impactful for others, I try to find projects that will allow people to feel that a conversation is being started about something in the world that could be an injustice, grief, or falling in love for example. As filmmakers the aim is to take subject matters and put it into a film that will provoke conversation and stir up thought and stir up some sort of change…The honour of being an artist is you get to provide a voice for the voiceless, you get to provide a space for people’s emotions to take up room, and I feel like I can connect to those who are actively trying to fight for something that feels meaningful”

 The film shows the gruelling process those seeking refuge have to endure, from untrained staff, and endless delays to applications that leaves many displaced people living in a state of limbo, along with having to deal with xenophobia and racism which compounds the trauma they already are experiencing.

 ‘Aisha’ also serves as a powerful critique of the Direct Provision system, a social system which should be structured to support people who need help the most but is instead a system where private contractors profit from the misfortunes of others and bureaucracy actually discourages people from seeking asylum who desperately need it.

Berry is hopeful that there will be imminent change, and that a film like ‘Aisha’ can help play a role in encouraging discussion about Direct Provision, its impact on people, and how it functions and what sort of system should exist in its place.

He said: “If this film can join that chorus and create a space for discussion, just to keep the conversation [going], that will be wonderful. Above all, what Aisha does is capture a moment as it is occurring, which is a powerful record for the future. I think these films very often are made in retrospect, after the fact. I’m delighted to have made this film now, and not to be making it in 10 or 20 years’ time, because hopefully it’ll have some impact.”

There has been a successful campaign to dismantle direct provision in Ireland over the last few years and the government has pledged to end Direct Provision by 2024, replacing it with a new system that will include not-for-profit accommodation.

‘Aisha’ starring Letitia Wright is out now in UK cinemas and is available to watch on Sky Cinema.

Watch the trailer below:

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