‘Moses’ tackles human sex trafficking in Africa at the SF Black Film Fest this year

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

One of the most provocative must-see films in the San Francisco Black Film Festival is the cinematic drama “Moses,” which is about the human sex trafficking of young African males, a topic rarely discussed. The movie starts out with Moses, who is a better than average soccer player in Nigeria.

'Moses' film logo

He is contacted by a white “sports agent” who talks his father into letting him go to America to become a soccer star. When he arrives in America, there are no stadiums, soccer fans or bright lights. Instead, Moses is taken to a party full of white men and passed around and raped numerous times.

With the help of another person being victimized by the human trafficking cartel, Moses is able to turn the tables on a fate that almost killed him. “Moses” screens Saturday, June 13, at 1 p.m. at the Second Act Theater, 1727 Haight St., in San Francisco.

“Moses” screens Saturday, June 13, at 1 p.m. at the Second Act Theatre, 1727 Haight St., San Francisco.

I sat down with the filmmaker Uzoma Okoro to talk about the concept, the casting and the inspiration that went into the stomach-turning story of “Moses.” Check him out in his own words.

M.O.I. JR: How did you come up with the concept for your approximately 25 minute movie “Moses”?

Uzoma Okoro: “Moses” is based on actual events. A few years ago I saw a very low profile news story that made quick mention of corrupt agents buying young African soccer players. It sparked my interest and as I did more research I learned there was a much deeper and more widespread atrocity happening that none knew about.

The sex trafficking of young African men is not only virtually unheard of, it seems to make people so uncomfortable that they scarcely want to discuss it when told about it. I felt compelled to tell the story of these young men, and I wrote “Moses.”

The sex trafficking of young African men is not only virtually unheard of, it seems to make people so uncomfortable that they scarcely want to discuss it when told about it.

M.O.I. JR: If this was a personal experience, what did you have to overcome in life to get to a place where you could teach about the experience and advocate against human trafficking?

Uzoma Okoro: The story is not my own; I am merely the storyteller. As a young man with African roots and a love for the game of soccer, I do relate to these young men. I believe their story to be one that will force us all to ask some very complex questions about how this sort of injustice can happen.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about how human trafficking affects the lives of its victims?

Uzoma Okoro: When you abuse a person in such a fundamentally brutal way, it changes the DNA of their personality. They will never be the same person again, and the family that lost them suffers emotional, psychological and finacial devastation that can take generations to repair.

M.O.I. JR: For people who have not seen your film, what are some common ways in which people get caught up in situations where they become the commodity being trafficked?

Uzoma Okoro: Today’s trafficking and sexual abuse starts with manipulation. Moses is an extremely talented soccer player who would genuinely be a good asset to a professional team, so the belief that there is something better for him already exists within him. When that belief is preyed upon by a very convincing sports agent, we see how fast a dream can become a nightmare.

M.O.I. JR: How long did it take for you to write the script for “Moses? What was the creative process like?

Uzoma Okoro: It took me about one year to write “Moses.” I am a mechanical engineer, father and husband, so I wrote it in the evenings or whenever I had free time. I like to think of myself as having a very cinematic mind, so basically I created and watched the whole movie in my head dozens of times before I ever wrote a word. I visualized what I thought to be a realistic, yet entertaining movie. I wrote out what I saw in my mind.

The belief that there is something better for him already exists within him. When that belief is preyed upon by a very convincing sports agent, we see how fast a dream can become a nightmare.

M.O.I. JR: How did you cast for your film?

Uzoma Okoro: Honestly, it was extremely difficult to find a teenage lead who was brave enough to tackle the gritty reality of this role. Certain scenes are enough to make anyone cringe. Lenard impressed me because he had memorized the entire script. He knew the part of Moses word for word. “The Kyd” Jackson not only had the acting chops to pull it off, he dissolved himself away and became Moses. From then on it was difficult to cast anyone else.

I knew casting Natalia, played by Brittney Robledo, would be challenging because the character has so many dimensions. I chose Brittany because of her versatility and ability to play both victim and heroine in this story.

I chose to cast Joel Rickert (standout role), Allen Myers and Joseph Nelson as the key figures in this international sex trafficking because they were not afraid in the casting call to let go and embodied the role; they essentially didn’t need script.

M.O.I. JR: How long did it take to shoot it?

Uzoma Okoro: Actually filming only took a few weeks. The grind of filming is in the planning. Site selections, prop acquisition, coordinating talent schedules, post production etc. took several months.

M.O.I. JR: What made you apply to the San Francisco Black Film Festival? How did you feel when your film was selected to be shown?

I think the first thing I told my wife was, I’m so excited to see what people feel when they see “Moses.” It’s an honor to be selected to the film festival, and it’s a real validation for all my writing.

It is hard to explain in words. I can’t wait for viewers to share the experience and I can’t wait to enjoy the moment with all the fervent indie film supporters.

M.O.I. JR: What do you hope people get out of “Moses”?

Uzoma Okoro: I want people to be entertained, and once we’ve captured their attention I want them to ask some very complicated questions of themselves. Questions such as: Could there be a “Moses” living next to me? When is the last time someone sold me a dream that got me into a bad situation? Only by personalizing it and feeling something will viewers be engaged and hopefully seek ways to take action against trafficking.

Only by personalizing it and feeling something will viewers be engaged and hopefully seek ways to take action against trafficking.

M.O.I. JR: I personally think that the end was the best part of the film, because it did not end as expected on a sour note. What made you come up with that ending?

Uzoma Okoro: I did not want the movie to be a pure victimization piece, nor did I want it to be an unrealistic happy ending. The ending for “Moses” will leave you satisfied and uneasy at the same time. That was a hard balance to pull off, but suffice it to say you have to see this film ‘til the last second!

M.O.I. JR: Why did you name the film “Moses”?

Uzoma Okoro: Our story begins in Nigeria where many people are named after biblical characters. The biblical Moses sought the promised land, just as Moses is doing in my film. Both characters travel far with high hopes, and find pain at what was supposed to be their promised land.

M.O.I. JR: When does your film screen?

Uzoma Okoro: “Moses” will be showing on Saturday, June 13, at 1 p.m. at the Second Act Theatre, 1727 Haight St., San Francisco.

M.O.I. JR: How could people keep up with you and your film “Moses” online?

Uzoma Okoro: I always tell people, “I’m an indie film guy, so I’m really easy to reach.” They can go to the website for my novel, “The Cocaine Saints,” www.thecocainesaints.com, or email me directly at uzomaokoro@gmail.com. They can also follow me on twitter @uzoma_okoro and on instagram @uokoro.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.