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The Film 'Ludi' Explores A Haitian Immigrant’s Struggle With Family Obligations

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Chris Diamond Photography
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An exhausted Ludi (Shein Mompremier) sits in a jitney bus during a long ride home. Key stills courtesy of Bantufy Films

"Ludi," a recipient of the Oolite Arts Cinematic Arts Residency Grant, is also appearing at the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival and is the brainchild of Miami natives.

The new film "Ludi," the opening night feature for this year’s Miami International Film Festival, follows the life of a Haitian nursing assistant through Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood.

It’s the debut feature by Edson Jean — inspired by his mother’s immigrant experience coming from Haiti to Miami.

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The director and co-writer says though the film explores the pressures of family obligation, it also places a spotlight on the shift in a Haitian immigrant’s perspective about the American dream — a long-drawn realization that it’s not easily attainable, as the fantasy remains in place in the minds of many relatives back home.

“The idea of opportunity in that dream that caused that person to go and leave their country to go chase opportunity also exists in the people that still remain,” Jean said. “And sometimes to a skewed perspective where they say, ‘Oh, you're in America, you have a wealth of riches, that you have opportunity. It's not like here in Haiti. So you're definitely in a prime position to support us or give back or it should be easier. We should be seeing you more. You should be able to fly back in and out.’”

Jean says the familial relationship and socio-economic expectations between Haitians in Haiti and Haitians in the diaspora is more nuanced.

“And that's not a mindset that's in all Haitian people by any means,” Jean said. “In fact, I think in my experience, it's the minority. But I did want to highlight that shift in perspective does exist.”

Jean, who’ve acted in several film projects, grew up in Delray Beach and Miami. He played a teacher in the Academy Award-winning film "Moonlight," and he co-created "Grown," the first scripted web series for Complex.

He says "Ludi" is based on his own mother’s difficult immigrant experience in Miami. And certain elements of the film were taken from her early nursing years — the stories of her taking several buses to get to her first job working at a Jewish woman’s home on South Beach.

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Courtesy of Bantufy Films
Writer and filmmaker Edson Jean

'There's This Positivity And This Ambition That Actually Keeps Us Going'

The film explores a multi-dimensional Haitian journey, with peaks and valleys.

“These stories and these themes are not about, ‘Oh, woe is us, woe is our culture,” Jean said.

“I do also want to celebrate and point a finger toward a resilience that exists in positivity because our people are not like, ‘Oh, we're struggling, we don't have this. Life is so terrible.’ There's this positivity and this ambition that actually keeps us going in a way that isn't so demoralizing.”

Jean captures a slice of life in Little Haiti — from the white jitney buses picking passengers up to Haitian Kreyol spoken throughout the film.

Shein Mompremier is a Haitian-American actor and Miami native. She’s best known for her recurring role in The CW's "Black Lightning."

Mompremier plays the titular character Ludi. The cash-strapped certified nursing assistant is trying to buy a graduation gift for her cousin in Haiti but she can’t afford it. And she’s having trouble explaining that in the face of the mystique surrounding the American dream.

She says when she played Ludi, she was channeling the experiences from all of the Haitian women in her family who made financial sacrifices in the U.S. while supporting cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles in Haiti.

In one scene, Ludi is in her apartment in Little Haiti and she’s having trouble explaining to another cousin, Gerline, in Haiti, why Ludi can’t visit her home country.

“Things are upside down. It’s not that I don’t want to see you. I just can’t right now. Understand?” Ludi says in the film. “Gerline, believe me. Once this country puts its hands on you, it never lets you go.”

The pressure often lingered at Ludi's job. "Your shoulders are strong but they are not unbreakable,” warned Marie, a Haitian work colleague played by Kerline Alce.

Mompremier says immigrants often feel like “worker ants” and Ludi doesn't want to let her family down because “she feels like she is the great hope for her family.”

In Mompremier’s real life, she says her own mother “to this day is still taking care of family back home.”

The 'Self-Sacrificing Human Beings' In The Film

There are also intense cross-cultural moments between Ludi and an elderly Jewish patient named George, played by Alan Myles Heyman.

In one scene, the two characters clash before eventually bonding over the family sacrifices they’ve made in their own lives.

“I wanted everything for my family. More than everything. I worked like a horse. I never once took a vacation. I was afraid that if the engine stopped, everything would be taken away from me,” George says in the film. “I had to keep going. I forgot about my kids, my wife, and most of all myself."

Mompremier called the characters “self- sacrificing human beings” with an unexpected human connection that can often “transcend racial, cultural, and religious differences.”

But cultural and language barriers can still exists, demonstrated in Ludi's awkward living and work relationship with Blanca, a Spanish-speaking acquittance played by Madelin Marchant.

Jean says the slice of life scenes in Little Haiti can resonate for a lot of different people in similar circumstances, especially in Miami. A large part of the cast and crew “identify as either immigrants or as the children of immigrants.”

Jean said cast members Success St. Fleur Jr. and Plus Pierre — Miami natives and popular comedians in the Haitian-American community — made their film debut.

Pierre plays Fr. Julien, a traditional Haitian elder driving a jitney bus, espousing about the value of marriage and generational differences within the Haitian community. Pierre says the true-to-life experiences of the characters stood out to him.

These don’t feel like caricatures. They feel like people I know. The dialogue feels natural,” Pierre said. “In the past when I’ve seen Miami or Haitians depicted on screen, it never felt like home. I think this film feels like the crib.”

St. Fleur Jr., who plays a flirtatious co-worker of Ludi's, says the story is “relevant to the Haitian culture today because we may all know a Ludi.”

“The film will be a form of encouragement to anyone who may be in a similar situation. Also, it will show other immigrants from other cultures that we are all relatively the same,” he said.

“In the past when I’ve seen Miami or Haitians depicted on screen, it never felt like home. I think this film feels like the crib.”
Plus Pierre

"Ludi," a recipient of the Oolite Arts Cinematic Arts Residency Grant, is also appearing at the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival.

The film, co-written by Joshua Jean-Baptiste, was produced by Fabiola Rodriguez. Rodriguez and Edson Jean run Bantufy Films, a production company “creating low- and micro-budget films featuring stories from perspectives traditionally absent or misrepresented in usual industry fare.”

Jean hopes "Ludi" will be “a gateway to celebrate Haitian culture.”