October 3, 2014

Lost & Found: “The Good Lie” Brings Heart To Hardship Of Sudanese Refugees

Arnold Oceng & Reese Witherspoon in The Good Lie

Let’s face it, we all are exhausted with stories about disenfranchised minorities being saved by the white movie star! It’s been done and done again and sometimes, even took home Oscars for it.

But thankfully, that is not the case with “The Good Lie.” As amazing as Reese Witherspoon is an actress, one of the best aspects of this film is that there isn’t a lot of her in the movie—despite the fact her likeness is prominent on the poster.  Funny enough, that’s even one of the things that made the Oscar winner take this role.

Reese Witherspoon in “The Good Lie”

“I enjoyed the idea of when I met with the director, the first thing he said was ‘this movie isn’t about you, and I just want to be really clear about that.’  I have never had a director say that to me before,” Witherspoon smiled, as we set in a conference room at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.

“But it actually made me happy,” she continued, “because I didn’t want to make a movie where I was this white American girl coming in to save African people. My character is just as emotionally scarred, just as flawed and just as without family as they are.  I thought it was a beautiful opportunity to talk about finding family where you are.”

“The Good Lie” is a heart-tugging, yet still uplifting story about the Sudanese refugees whose lives were devastated by their country’s bloody civil war in the 1980s.  Entire families were brutally massacred by rebels who decimated Sudan’s population and created a generation of more than 20,000 orphaned and displaced boys nicknamed the Lost Boys.

Arnold Oceng & Reese Witherspoon in “The Good Lie”

Despite being a film centered on one of history’s greatest atrocities, Philippe Falardeau’s movie—inspired-by real-life situations—doesn’t white-wash the significance of the desolation, while still capturing the optimistic nature of the people.

The handling of the history of the Sudanese refugees and the details in the research were elements that motivated Witherspoon to sign on to this project.

“I just thought the script was so beautiful. Margaret Nagle did an incredible job. It was just so much research involved. When I started watching documentaries, it just all was completely accurate. Every story that you heard the Sudanese refugees tell was somehow in the film and in the script,” the actress explained.

“So many times you think you appreciate your life, but then until you see someone else’s perspectives on our privileges and the opportunities we have,” Witherspoon continued.  “Whether it’s the education or the healthcare or the food and running water, I just thought it was a great message also for families. I think it’s great to bring your kids to this movie. It brings up a lot of dinner table conversations that should be had. I’m taking my kids!”

Scene with the Lost Boys in “The Good Lie”

In a courageous move, the first 30 minutes of the film is set in Africa.  The film beautifully captures breathtaking views of sub-Saharan savannas while watching these kids make the pilgrimage to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. The movie is shot so well that at times, it feels like a documentary.

Arnold Oceng

The remainder of the film chronicles the lead characters Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal) and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) move to America.

The brothers are sent to rebuild their lives in Kansas City, Mo., but there sister is sent to live with a family in Boston.  The airport scene that shows them being separated after all they have already faced in their homeland is heartbreaking.

While the performances by all of the Lost Boys and the Lost Girl are strong in the “The Good Lie,” Oceng’s work in particular was a standout.

The British-bred former child star, who has an impressive resume of film and TV credits under his belt in the UK, was almost overlooked for the part because of his height.

“I was cast from London. My agent got the breakdown and I sent in my picture and I got turned down. I was not even allowed to audition for it because they said I was too short,” Oceng recalled.  “I didn’t pay it any mind and like a month later, they contacted my agent and said we can see him now. I put myself on tape and sent it to LA. We didn’t hear back from them for like a month in a half. Then my agent called and said my tape was the only tape they liked from Europe and wanted to know if I was available to fly to LA. I was like, ‘are you serious, of course I’m available!'”

Oceng evokes heart and spirit in “The Good Lie.” His character Mamere and his siblings are so endearing and engaging in this movie that it doesn’t make the story of genocide difficult to digest. As awkward as it feels to say, “The Good Lie” is an upbeat film, one with a takeaway of inspiration, determination and overcoming anything!

Scene from “The Good Lie”

“The Good Lie” (Warner Bros.) opens in limited release on Oct. 3.

VIDEO: Watch the official trailer for “The Good Lie.”



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