SXSW 2021: ‘Ludi’ Shows the Power in Choosing Yourself

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Screening at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival Ludi, directed by Edson Jean, and co-written by Joshua Jean-Baptiste follows the film’s titular character, a young Haitian immigrant who works day and night as a nurse at a private nursing home, to earn money for her family back in Haiti, while struggling to find out what she wants and needs for herself.

“America is the land of opportunity”, “You can be anything you want to be in America”, are just a couple of the phrases spread through American media to everyone on the outside, but for many who live there particularly Black people and immigrants, the reality is far from the myth. Living paycheck-to-paycheck while supporting their families what living in America is about. As a Black woman in the Haitian and Caribbean community of Little Haiti in Miami, Ludi (Shein Mompremier) is told by men – namely the bus driver that takes her to work every day – that her place is at home, serving a husband and raising children as Jesus intended. He of course completely gloss over the fact that housework and looking after children is just as exhausting as work outside of home.

At work, Ludi has to contend with another nurse Evans (Success St. Fleur Jr.) constantly making suggestive comments, despite Ludi’s reminders that he’s married and she’s not interested. With Marie (Kerline Alce), another Haitian, Ludi’s told she needs to turn to Jesus, and a prayer for help turns into one calling her faithfulness and Haitianess into question. Anyone raised in a Black Caribbean household and church is all too familiar with these prayers of castigation. They do little to strengthen one’s faith, instead of making a person frustrated and feeling insulted just as Ludi was. Having been turned down for extra shifts, Ludi worries about where she could get the money needed to buy a dress for her cousins FaFa and Geraline, she finds what seems to the solution she needs, but doesn’t necessarily want.

Earlier that morning Ludi turned down the opportunity to earn extra cash, as accepting outside nursing work is against agency policy, but with no other option at hand, she accepts her housemate Blanca’s (Madelin Marchant) offer, having no idea it would lead to her making a choice that would change the way she views everything.

Later that night she arrives at what she thinks is the apartment of the elderly gentleman she’s supposed to be watching until his regular nurse arrives. But instead of a welcome, Ludi is met with rudeness and suspicion as he shouts at her to get out, accusing her of working for his daughters who he believes is out to get his money. This sequence with George show three significant things to the characters and the audience. Fed up with George’s disrespect, and abuse when he throws feces on her face, Ludi finally breaks. She’s had a long and hard day and a difficult life. She’s finally reached her breaking point after shouldering the burden of being the main breadwinner for a family that thinks life in America is easier.

For the audience, this is just a brief glimpse into what many immigrants like Ludi have to deal with. Besides that, there’s the revelation of what nurses face on a daily basis when patients take out their own frustrations over their declining health on the people taking care of them. At the hospital, Ludi isn’t seen as a person and now she’s facing it from George, too. As a Black woman, she has to deal with men only seeing her a vessel to bear children, and to serve them, and even as a housemate her job is threatened by Blanca who manipulates her into running errands for her, and Evans holding the new side job over her head when he listens into her conversation with Blanca.

It takes Ludi bursting into tears and expressing her anger about her situation for George to finally speak to her in a cordial manner after she apologizes. They finally come to an understanding and the rest of their night into the early morning is peaceful until Blanca calls frantic over why Ludi hasn’t turned up at the appointed house. It’s then that Ludi realizes she’s messed up, and as Maria warned her earlier would eventually happen with Ludi taking on too much responsibility. At home she records a cassette message for her cousins, confessing that she can no longer bear the burden, apologizes for not being able to afford the dress for FaFa, and says it’s time to take care of herself.

In their screenplay, Jean and Jean-Baptiste have impressively made many references that are a smart commentary on the life of American blue-collar workers, the healthcare system, and the misconceptions many who live outside of North America have of the country and the financial situations of those living there. Mompremier is such a natural in her role, I felt like I was watching women I’ve met and could commiserate with about all the things that bother us as Black women and immigrants, which is the best compliment I could give her. Having never been to Little Haiti, I at first thought the film was shot in the Caribbean. The houses, streets, and coconut trees made me nostalgic for home, which if that was the intention of Jean, kudos to him. The similarities of Little Haiti to it’s larger sister island is a subtle revelation of the need for immigrants to create a home away from home, in this larger and at time more unwelcoming country.

Apart from the small issue of the film feeling longer than its 79 minutes runtime, due to slightly uneven pacing, Ludi is a very enjoyable film that immigrants and people of Caribbean heritage will relate to. Like Ludi, many have to make the choice to choose themselves first and learn there’s nothing wrong with doing that, because the real dream, is to be happy and content.