Dreaming of a land of milk and honey but finding a lean existence instead. It’s a familiar tale for many immigrants and one director Edson Jean explores in his new film “Ludi.” Inspired by his mother’s years as an immigrant in America, Jean’s drama, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), is a story of a young Haitian woman in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood chasing her idea of the American Dream.
“When my mother immigrated from Haiti to Miami, she had to work multiple jobs and ultimately found a job as a nursing assistant. She had to wake up 5 days a week at 4 a.m. to take three buses from North Miami to South Beach, where she would take care of an elderly Jewish woman. To be financially stable, it took her through all these experiences and within that journey, she was trying to find her footing in this country. Ludi is a character that resembles the resilience of immigrant women, their constant sacrifice to put family above themselves,” shares Jean, who received an Oolite Arts Cinematic Arts Residency grant for the movie.
At the heart of the film is Ludi (Shein Mompremier), a nurse navigating strife with human faith. She’s in America, the land of freedom and opportunity, but never seems to get a break despite extra shifts. There are bills to pay, rent is high and “I can’t afford to take time off,” she bemoans in one scene. The acting is superb, and the moral is touching as the film focuses on Ludi’s connection with family back home and the pressure she puts upon herself to provide.
“There are things that are lost with over sacrificing, and oftentimes that pressure is put on that person who arrives at the land of opportunity because they know how difficult life is out there, so they put that pressure on themselves. It’s a double-edged sword as not everyone coming from the Caribbean has that handout mentality,” adds Jean, a Haitian American actor/writer/director who wrote, directed, and starred in “The Adventures of Edson Jean,” which aired on HBO and was also seen in “Moonlight,” “War Dogs,” HBO’s “Ballers” and Netflix’s “Bloodline.”
Also starring Alan Myles Heyman, Madelin Marchant, Success St. Fleur Jr., and Kerline Alce, the magic of “Ludi” is that it acknowledges the odds stacked against newcomers to this country. Perfectly portrayed by Shein Mompremier who Jean worked with on his digital series project, “Grown,” Ludi struggles to adapt to both life in the States and the high expectations put on her to provide and that is what drives this sombre tale.
Sprinkled with some lighter moments, as well as burdens which are etched in Ludi’s furrowed brow, it’s an intimately personal account and a very specific story about how unforgiving the supposed land of opportunity can be. Edson’s film doesn’t shy away from making its parable and evokes some the doom and gloom of life in America.
An immigrant story of hardship, the end of “Ludi” is startlingly moving. The feelings Jean evokes in the last scenes are earned: they encapsulate the whole story. And they stay with you long after it’s over.
By Samantha Ofole-Prince / Photos courtesy of Bantufy Films