The year is 1987 and some children are out watching the cattle about a stones-throw away from their village in Southern Sudan. Two brothers, Mamere and Theo Deng, like to play a game where they recite their family’s lineage hand over hand in the sand. First Grandfather … Second Grandfather ….Third Grandfather… The family’s history is remembered through the spoken word and it is drilled into their heads at an early age. A young girl shakes her head in dismay as the brothers fight over who won the game.
Suddenly, gunshots are heard, a helicopter flies overhead and their young lives are changed forever.
The Good Lie follows a group of refugee children as they flee Northern Islamic soldiers, walking hundreds of miles to a Kenyan refugee camp where they live for the next 13 years. With the help of Christian relief services, thousands of refuges like them (known as “the lost children”) would eventually be relocated to the United States.
This touching movie is about their struggle to reconcile their tragic pasts with their strange new life in America with the help of a cynical employment counselor (Reese Witherspoon).
It’s difficult to describe the horror and hardships these children faced at such an early age. Soldiers from the North destroyed the Deng family’s village and slaughtered all the residents – all except Abital, Mamere and Theo’s little sister, who survived by playing dead. At one point during their difficult trek to Ethiopia, the children were forced to drink their own urine to survive. Later on, they ran into a large group of refuges heading in the opposite direction. It turned out the Ethiopia way wasn’t safe. Too many soldiers. So they headed towards the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya with their new friends, Jeremiah and Paul.
After walking hundreds of more miles, and experiencing more horrors of war – including losing Theo to Northern Sudanese soldiers, the group arrived at the camp, where they stayed for the next thirteen years. As young adults, the opportunity finally arose for them to leave the camp and resettle in America.
In one of the more heart-wrenching scenes in the movie, Mamere, Theo, Jeremiah and Paul are forced to split up with Abital. Because a host family wasn’t found for her in Kansas City, she was shuttled off to Boston all by herself and away from her only family.
Upon arriving in Kansas City, the men were met by employment agency counselor Carrie Davis (Witherspoon), who had been enlisted to help find them jobs— which turned out to be easier said than done considering the language barrier and their lack of familiarity with basic things like straws, light switches and telephones. They seemed too “strange” for their first potential employer – the manager of a Waffle House.
As great as Witherspoon is in her part, she was upstaged by the refuges (played by Arnold Oceng, 28, Ger Duany, 35, Emmanuel Jal, 34, and Kuoth Wiel, 25,) Duany and Jal are real-life “Lost Boys” who fled Sudan in the nineties.
“This is my story. This is Ger’s story. I’m acting myself in the movie,” said Jal n an interview with People Magazine. “It’s an opportunity to broaden our voices.”
Jal was forced to become a child soldier before escaping to Nairobi, Kenya, where he made a life for himself as a rapper, eventually moving to London.
“The war has ripped apart my family: My mom was claimed by the war, all my uncles except two, my brothers and sisters were scattered. I have still have scars of the war,” Jal continued. “People only know the physical scars, but war can rob people’s souls. They don’t know the internal scars that take a lifetime to heal.”
Both Jal and Duany say the film was an outlet to help them reconcile. “It’s an opportunity for me to heal,” says Duany. The model and actor, who had a role in I Heart Huckabees, spent four years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia and also fought as a child soldier. In 1994, Duany relocated to Des Moines, Iowa, as a refugee.
Both admit it was difficult filming – and then watching – the movie. “I was very emotional with this movie,” Duany says. “But we have to be strong; we have to educate the world.”
I won’t tell you what “the Good Lie” is – but I will say that this movie is well worth watching to find out.