Those who made the new movie “The Good Lie,” screenwriter Margaret Nagle’s fictionalized account of what many Sudanese “Lost Boys” went through to get to America, figure there’s a timeliness to its history. It’s not just about 1980s East Africa and America just after 9/11.
“Look at what’s happening along the Mexican border, more than 50,000 children fleeing violence in Central America crossing that border, by themselves,” says Nagle. Just as her script depicts unarmed Sudanese children, many of them orphaned, fleeing a war zone, “these kids are on their own, desperate. And some of us getting very upset that this is happening, at the kids!”
Nagle’s script — telling the story of “Lost Boys” who made it to America just before 9/11 — took eleven years to find a name star (Reese Witherspoon) and financing that allowed it to be filmed. Nagle sees that as fate.
“After 11 years, with the refugee camps overflowing again, and kids fleeing violence on our borders, maybe the time is right for this movie,” she says. “We are a country built by immigrants fleeing intolerance, violence and poverty. That’s how this country began. Plainly, the schools are not teaching history very well if so many people have a hard time remembering that.”
Kuoth Wiel, who plays a lost girl who makes it out of Sudan with the lost boys of “The Good Lie,” is the daughter of Sudanese refugees, a young actress lucky enough to grow up in Minnesota rather than war-torn Sudan.
“If you don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee,” she says, “maybe our movie can tell you. We’re just misunderstood, and I think that’s the case with the unaccompanied minors coming in from the border with Mexico. You have to wonder why they’re here. They have nothing left. For their parents to give them up to send them north wasn’t easy. Desperation.”
Nagle adds that “if CNN and other networks would take the time to interview some of these kids, we’d all feel differently about them, just as we did about the ‘Lost Boys’ after ’60 Minutes’ started doing stories on them.”
Actor Arnold Oceng was born in Uganda, the child of refugees who fled Sudan. But the war spilled over the border, as they often do. Growing up in London, he heard the stories of a harrowing childhood he was too young to remember.
“My mom tells me of running away from the war with me tied on her back, through the jungles of Uganda. Hiding from soldiers, just as she had in Sudan. My mom did that. I am totally connected with that war, through her. But I did not understand the desperation she felt, the desperation of all refugees from war feel, until we made the film.”
In “The Good Lie,” Oceng plays Mamere, a refugee who feels the weight of responsibility for the others in his “family,” and survivor’s guilt for those he had to leave behind.
Critics are saying “The Good Lie” is “overly earnest” (Variety) but “bighearted” (New York Post) thanks to its story and its timely message about welcoming refugees. Nagle hopes filmgoers get the bigger picture, “that this is what we do best. When we do something like this, we feel good about ourselves and the country. We’ve been so divided, lacking that higher purpose that makes us great. It’s nice to remember we do this.”