MY FATHER THE LUO
My Father the Luo is a film about finding one’s identity. The main character is Roma Ndolo, a young woman who grew up in Germany with parents from Poland and Kenya. She had always longed to find out more about her “African side” so she travels to her late father’s homeland. While there, she recognizes the parallels between her own life and that of President Barack Obama. Each of their fathers were from the Luo tribe and Obama’s half sister is Roma’s family friend. This film was shot during the Democratic Convention in Denver 2008. Not surprisingly there is also a historic footage of Senator Obama’s trip to Kenya in 2006. Roma visits her grandmother whom she has not seen in many years, and also honors the grave of her father for the first time. Everywhere she travels she is warmly welcomed and becomes more and more comfortable with her African origins. It is a portrait of a person successfully integrating her multicultural identity.
My Father the Luo is the story of self-discovery told about two people whose genetic history spans nations, race and culture. The main story line portrays the experience of Roma Ndolo of Germany, whose mother is from Poland and whose father is from Kenya. Filmed during the time of the Democratic National Convention, 2008, when Barak Obama is named a candidate for President of the United States, a parallel narrative about the candidate who has a Hawaiian mother and a Kenyan father, echoes the multicultural experience. As Roma travels to her family homeland, sees her grandmother, visits her father’s burial site, and experiences the culture of the Luo, the similarities between her journey and that of the eventual president emerge through film clips and conversation with Obama’s half sister. In Luo tradition the child belongs to the father, making Barak Obama a son of Kenya. In this film Obama is greatly admired, seen as a hero and held up as an example to Kenyan children. There is footage of Obama’s trip to Kenya as a U.S. Senator, speeches from the convention, and Roma reading from Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” to illustrate that message. Kenyans are curious whether Obama is more Kenyan or American. In a conversation between Roma and Professor Gilbert Ogutu of the University of Nairobi the difference between being a son of Kenya through lineage and proudly identifying with the Luo culture is discussed as two types of kinship and integration of multicultural identity. This film would be appropriate for high school and college libraries where coursework includes the topics of culture and multiculturalism. Some sub-themes are post colonialism, politics, family, and tribal traditions. The cinematography is well done with both urban and rural footage of people and their environment. Music includes “Barak Obama” by Coco Tea as well as other peices. Translation to English is easily understood with timing that does not hinder the telling of the story. - EMRO, Sue F. Phelps
This charming short film follows a half-Kenyan, half-Polish woman back to her roots in Kenya, treading the same path as a much more famous personage, Barack Obama. In the modern globalized world we are probably all searching for our home, and in that world the constituent parts of our home—if it can be reconstituted at all—are probably far-flung. This is true for me—born in West Virginia, raised in upstate New York, a resident of Australia for two years, and currently inhabiting Denver—but it is even more true for the two central characters of this lovely little film, Roma Ndolo and Barack Obama. What is perhaps even stranger than the fractured nature of contemporary identity is the links between our individual identity and that of other individuals whose life-paths have crossed ours. Ndolo is, like Obama, a half-Kenyan and half-Western (her mother was Polish); even more, her Kenyan family lived and lives not far from Obama’s. So the film opens with Obama’s voice speaking about his Kenyan father while scenes of Kenya flow by. Ndolo’s first stop in the country is the University of Nairobi, where she talks to a scholar who is also a member of Luo council of elders. As he explains, by Luo kinship reckoning (as well as by most anyone’s sense), Obama is a son of Kenya as well as an American. To learn more about Obama’s heritage, Ndolo travels to the family village of Obama’s father, noting rather ironically the violence after the recent Kenyan elections. She drops in on her own grandmother, whom she has not seen in almost two decades. In another poetic irony, she and her kin watch the Democratic party convention, at which Obama was nominated to run for president, on television. But her own story is important too, and the film spends several minutes with Ndolo and her kin as they look at family photos and discuss her father, who died in Poland when she was young. Thus the film continues to interweave the two individuals, Obama and Ndolo, as well as contemporary Kenya. We hear Obama’s words as we view scenes of daily life in Kenya. A pivotal moment for the locals was Obama’s visit in 2006 when he was a U.S. senator; the local people took then and take take pride and hope in Obama and the promise of the United States. A village school was renamed after him, and the movie shows children singing for Obama back in 2006. About two-thirds of the way through the piece, Ndolo arrives at Obama’s Kenyan family’s home. His grandmother and half-sister talk about Obama’s curiosity regarding his own past and identity—a curiosity that is only a bit more exquisite and world-historical than that of any modern global citizen. Finally, tying the entire journey together, Ndolo comes to her own family’s home. (Interestingly, her father had been a cultural anthropologist in Europe.) In a conclusive symbolic flourish, Ndolo narrates her own experience at the grave site of her father with an excerpt from Obama’s memoire . And when the local children come out to greet her, they call her a white person! It is thought-provoking that the same person—Ndolo or Obama—would be conceived of as black in the white West and white in black Africa. Perhaps that is as much the theme of the film as any other. Level/Use: Suitable for high school classes and for college courses in cultural anthropology, anthropology of race and ethnicity, African studies, and American studies, as well as general audiences. - ARD, Jack David Eller
My Father the Luo is a film about finding one’s identity. The main character is Roma Ndolo, a young woman who grew up in Germany with parents from Poland and Kenya. She had always longed to find out more about her “African side” so she travels to her late father’s homeland. While there, she recognizes the parallels between her own life and that of President Barack Obama. Each of their fathers were from the Luo tribe and Obama’s half sister is Roma’s family friend. This film was shot during the Democratic Convention in Denver 2008. Not surprisingly there is also a historic footage of Senator Obama’s trip to Kenya in 2006. Prof. Gilbert Ogutu of the University of Nairobi, also a Luo, remarks that Kenyans were enthusiastic about Obama and curious whether he was more American or Kenyan. Roma visits her grandmother whom she has not seen in many years, and also honors the grave of her father for the first time. Everywhere she travels she is warmly welcomed and becomes more and more comfortable with her African origins. Here is a portrait of a person successfully integrating her multicultural identity.
This moving documentary, filmed during the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, explores President Barack Obama's influence on his father's native Kenya and on Roma Ndolo, a young woman who grew up in Germany but shares a similar heritage. Her deceased father was from the same Luo origin as Obama's father and her mother is Polish. Interested in finding out more about her African heritage, she visits her father's Kenyan family for the first time in many years, just as Obama had done. Ironically, Obama's Kenyan half-sister is a friend of Ndolo's family and is the link between the exploration of both families' stories. There are warm interviews with both their grandmothers as well as video footage of the President's 2006 Kenyan pilgrimage. Kenya's citizens share their pride in one of their own becoming a U.S. president. Subtitles explicate the non-English language interviews, but would also have been useful in some difficult-to-comprehend English segments, but that is not a major shortcoming. As Ndolo investigates her own heritage, viewers see the universality of family pride and love. The closing background song, "How Great Thou Art," with an African flavor summarizes the multicultural wealth many of us also share. - SLJ, Dwain Thomas