The spirits are inside these future basketball stars born from a family migration.
This month, Netflix gave us the sports drama “Hustle,” which had Adam Sandler as a talent scout trying to get a Spanish man in the NBA, unless his assault charge can be left on the side. And now, Disney+ has a family of Nigerian immigrants hoping their sons can make it in the big league, if they can avoid deportation at all costs.
It’s also a true story about how Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo were raised in Greek, and how they entered the basketball world. This doesn’t feature much known names, but these actors are exceptional in the ways they process their characters’ situations and emotions. Especially since real-life brothers Uche and Ral Agada have no acting experience, or so I’m told.
The Antetokounmpo family immigrated from their home country for a better life in Greece, where they always dodge the feds and sell souvenirs in Athens to make ends meet. The parents-Veronica (Yetide Badaki from “American Gods”) and Charles (Dayo Okeniyi)- struggle to get Visas for proper work, while the two older brothers Giannis (Uche Agada) and Thanasis (Ral Agada) manage to transcend from soccer to basketball. They’re lucky enough to practice for the tryouts, which captures the attention of interested promoters, who decide to give them a shot, bar pending if they can travel to another country, given the circumstances.
Giannis earns himself a shot in the NBA, but refuses to travel without his family. He’s even conscious about the brother his mother had to leave behind when she was immigrating. Whatever happens to him-whether or not he gets picked for the big leagues-he still loves and cares about his family. It’s all a test of faith and spirit, which the family acknowledges.
Some of the games and tryouts in “Rise” are rather dull, but the spirits of these basketball stars are high and prepared. They care about two things: dreams and family. They want to accomplish their goals on the courts, but they weren’t going to do it without their family.
“When one wins, they all win,” is the philosophy they believe in, and it’s true.
It’s mainly challenging because of how their parents had to escape the harsh realities of their home country for a better life. They managed to survive all these years, even when they had mouths to feed. But they must also deal with finding jobs and visas, as a result of their emigration. They’re all elevated by fine performances from the Agada brothers, Okenuyi, and Badaki, who all ease into their characters’ motives and dreams. It’s a movie about hope and never giving up, no matter the circumstances.
Finding a home on Disney+, “Rise” is directed with style by Akin Omotoso and written with patience by Arash Amel. Juneteenth has passed, but this movie still shows its love for African culture, and it never condescends. I wasn’t in this movie for the games; I was in it for its views of emigration, family, and dreams. It wants us to support this family, and we support them for all they’ve worked for and what they believe in.
Streaming on Disney+