b-activists: Filmmaker shows what it’s like to be black in Israel

image courtesy of latimes.com

photo courtesy of LATimes.com

Shmuel Beru arrived in Israel at age 8 with the first wave of Ethiopian immigrants in 1984. Classmates, who’d never seen a black person before, rubbed his skin to see if the color would come off. Growing up, they called him the “chocolate boy” and worse.

Today the actor-writer has turned his childhood struggle for acceptance into the first Ethiopian-made feature film exploring what it’s like to grow up black in Israel. Drawing inspiration from filmmaker Spike Lee’s stories about racial conflict in the United States, Beru examines sometimes-racist Israeli society. In a nation with so many competing well-documented narratives — Jewish, Palestinian, Christian — Beru’s “Zrubavel,” which premiered in June, and has already garnered international praise, offers yet another perspective.

“Zrubavel” is a classic immigrant saga, showing a younger generation fighting for acceptance and an older generation striving to keep its children rooted in the traditions of home. The film follows the hard-working grandfather, a former Ethiopian army colonel reduced to sweeping streets in his new life; the son-in-law whose embrace of ultra-Orthodox Judaism alienates his family; the pony-tailed college dropout, trapped between his father’s dream that he become Israel’s first black fighter pilot and a society pushing him toward more “suitable” work as a restaurant cook.

Since the 1980s, more than 80,000 Ethiopians have immigrated to Israel, many escaping famine and poverty in the Horn of Africa nation. According to Beru, “The most disturbing thing is that even after 30 years, if you ask me if we’ve turned the corner for the second and third generations of Ethiopians, I can’t say we have with any real confidence,” he said. He also says he hopes his film would counter negative stereotypes about Ethiopian immigrants.

The film hasn’t premiered in the US yet, but you can already find and order it from any major retailer. Be sure to check it out…It really shows us how immigration and racism are problems even in societies we tend to ignore in such discussions.

August 10, 2009 by akshay
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