‘I used to be so indignant’: the person who impressed Oscar-nominated movie recollects epic journey from Ivory Coast to Italy

‘I used to be so indignant’: the person who impressed Oscar-nominated movie recollects epic journey from Ivory Coast to Italy

The primary time Mamadou Kouassi watched the Oscar-nominated movie that was impressed by his life, he wished to smash the display screen.

He had spent “about 250 hours” talking to director Matteo Garrone – initially through video name early within the pandemic, then holed up at Garrone’s residence in Rome – about his brutal three year-journey from west Africa to Europe. Over foods and drinks, late into the night time, they dissected each line of the 300-page script, fine-tuning particulars in a course of Kouassi says “introduced peace to my soul”.

However watching his story on display screen for the primary time was tougher than he anticipated. Seeing an actor play a hopeful teenager, just like the one he as soon as was, forsaking his “poor however dignified” residence looking for a greater future, and the violence and cruelty that adopted, left him “shaking” and in tears.

“I used to be indignant. I used to be frightened. I felt ache,” Kouassi, 40, mentioned. “This was the life I lived for years. And to see that … it took me again to the life I forgot.”

Based mostly partly on Kouassi’s story, Io Capitano brings to life the journey that tens of hundreds of individuals try annually – from sub-Saharan Africa, via the continent and throughout the Mediterranean – fleeing conflict, persecution or poverty.

It follows two teenage cousins who depart their properties in Dakar, Senegal, at the hours of darkness – with out telling their moms, who they know would beg them to remain.

Mamadou, left, and his cousin Emmanuel, proper, taken 25 years in the past in Ivory Coast – earlier than they left for Europe. {Photograph}: Despatched by him

The protagonist, Seydou, is an aspiring musician who desires of changing into a star so massive that white folks ask for his autograph. For Kouassi – whose journey started along with his cousin Emmanuel in Damé in jap Ivory Coast – the dream was to develop into a footballer.

“We have been watching the tv, cinema, studying books… and this concept got here to us that perhaps in Europe we are able to get a greater life,” mentioned Kouassi. “This dream pushed us to comply with this insanity, this journey. We didn’t know the fact of what we confronted.”

The movie exhibits the cousins utilizing the small sum of money they’ve saved – in Kouassi’s case, engaged on cocoa and low farms – to purchase bus tickets and pretend passports, earlier than paying a dealer in Agadez, Niger, to get them to Libya. Removed from the brand new vehicles they’re promised, they’re given seats at the back of a pick-up truck that throws them round over sand dunes, in searing warmth, deep into the Sahara desert.

A scene from the movie Io Capitano (2023), directed by Matteo Garrone, with African migrants crossing the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat, mirroring Kouassi’s personal harmful journey. {Photograph}: © Greta De Lazzaris

Then, miles from civilisation, they’re deserted. Throughout the painful, thirsty, two-week stroll that follows, they see folks die. At one level, Seydou sits with a girl who collapses, crying “assist me, assist me”, earlier than having to go away her behind. In actual life, Kouassi recollects an analogous expertise with a girl from Ghana who requested him to offer a message to her dad and mom: “Sorry, I couldn’t make it.” Finally, he needed to depart her. “You save your self otherwise you die,” he mentioned.

Later the teenage cousins are separated and Seydou, as Kouassi was, is captured by a Libyan armed gang, who imprison and torture him. Then he’s offered “like a slave”, for $400 (£320), into compelled labour. Lastly comes a treacherous journey organized by folks smugglers throughout the Mediterranean – the world’s deadliest sea crossing – in an overcrowded, unseaworthy boat.

The movie, launched within the UK this week, lasts two hours and two minutes, however for Kouassi the journey took three traumatic years. After he arrived in Italy in 2008, he was given a pre-paid cellphone card, and the very first thing he did was name his mom. “She shouted: ‘You might be alive! You might be alive!’ She couldn’t even converse,” he mentioned. “I mentioned I’m sorry and gave an apology. And I mentioned anyway, sooner or later I hope I will probably be again in Africa to fulfill you to elucidate what occurred.”

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Over the subsequent 5 years, Kouassi slept tough in Rome, discovered himself working in exploitative circumstances on a tobacco plantation, and confronted a protracted battle to get approval to remain. His mom died in 2009, earlier than he was capable of return to Ivory Coast. “I didn’t have any paperwork, so I couldn’t even return,” he says.

Right this moment, issues are extra settled. He has two kids along with his Italian companion, works as a cultural mediator and translator and has the proper to remain in Italy long-term. Since being requested to work as a script marketing consultant on Io Capitano – after assembly the director through a mutual pal – he has been to the Oscars, Golden Globes and addressed politicians on the European parliament. Talking from his residence in Caserta final week, with photographs of his son and daughter on the wall behind him, he mentioned life was “good”.

However he’s haunted by his expertise. “Typically I ask myself: how did I overcome this? As a result of it was not straightforward,” he mentioned. For years he suffered nightmares, notably in regards to the torture that came about in unlawful prisons in Libya. The movie exhibits him being captured by an armed group that used excessive violence as soon as; in actual life, he says, he was kidnapped 4 instances.

Some issues have been in the end not proven within the movie as a result of they have been “too graphic”, together with events the place sexual violence in opposition to ladies was dedicated in entrance of him. “There are issues I can’t even describe, however it’s one thing you possibly can always remember,” Kouassi says.

“That’s why, once I watched the movie, I used to be so indignant on the means persons are handled. Individuals are nonetheless dealing with this example. In Italy, within the final 10 years within the Mediterranean sea, about 30,000 folks died. We’re at all times counting the variety of folks dying – kids, ladies.”

Simply as he felt an obligation to ship the message from the lady within the desert, he now needs to “be the voice of individuals with no voice”. He hopes Io Capitano and his story will assist persuade politicians of the necessity for protected, authorized immigration routes so that individuals can cease “risking their lives” within the Sahara and at sea.

And he hopes it would assist the broader public perceive the realities of what migrants arriving in Europe undergo. “Lots of people simply see the boats arriving. They don’t see the journey they’ve had earlier than that,” he says. “I’ve to let folks know what occurred to me and what’s occurring to folks day by day.”

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