Originally published on Malena’s blog, Africa. Dance. Drum. Life!
Imagine the tense lives of two illegal immigrants—a Senegalese woman and a Syrian man— in love and hawking their inspiring wares—dazzling earrings and drum beats— for a chance at freedom in New York.
Now toss in a deadpan white guy who regains his groove by friending the Syrian drummer, and then, the drummer’s struggle against deportation.
Add it all up and the scene easily becomes a public service announcement: Everyday, officers arrest and indefinitely detain countless spirited and good-hearted immigrants. And white Americans, born here, have a right to get good and angry about it.
Written and directed by the political-minded Tom McCarthy, “The Visitor” depicts the plight of two Muslim lovers—Zainab and Tarek—who want little more than to live happily together. And they do for a moment, until one day the couple’s life is interrupted by Walter, a despondent and stiff college professor, an aging white man and recent widower.
When Walter travels to New York from his home in Connecticut for school work, he enters his unfrequented Manhattan apartment and discovers Zainab and Tarek living there—a result of an apartment scam. Like any shocked tenet, Walter kicks them out on the street. That’s until a picture of the couple left behind sparks Walter’s moral consciousness and his hunt to find the couple and invite them to stay.
The chance arrangement re-introduces Tarek, an optimist who slings around a Djembe drum for a living.
One day Tarek catches Walter sneaking in a shaky and nervous slap on his drum—beats which lead to Tarek’s musical mentorship of Walter. Over time, the African music starts to crumble Walter’s walls of depression and soon, Walter gains the courage to play Djembe in a vibrant drum circle in Central Park.
But as Walter finds catharsis in the jam, Tarek is arrested in a subway after police accuse him of jumping a turnstile. Officials then detain Tarek, outraging Walter and Zainab. And later we see, not even Tarek’s consummate smile can light up his bleak situation.
“The Visitor” then gives us a grim look inside an immigrant detention center—the grizzly and cold bureaucracy that controls family-prisoner relations and the slick and ironic “America’s made of immigrants” poster-art on the walls.
As Walter makes numerous trips to visit Tarek and provide a lawyer, the holding cell—packed with visitor lines and apathetic detention clerks—embody the promise and grit of illegal immigrant lives.
Sadly, the movie is most effective in showing how Tarek is just one story, just another day in the life of thousands of futures clamped down by immigration policy after 9/11.
“The Visitor” is a must see!
And here are two more great reasons:
1. There’s a sizzling scene of Central Park’s summer drum circles that take place every Sunday.
2. And, need I say again, the Djembe drum is a lead character!!!