Trapped Inside the Maze of Discrimination in Salvador Calvo’s Tragic Film ‘Adu’

Midwa Ojiere is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago where he pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Art & Science.


Discrimination has existed throughout all of human history. It may be defined as the hatred of one person by another – or the belief that another person is less human  – because of skin colour, language, customs, place of birth or any factor that supposedly reveals the basic nature of that person. According to Wesley Lowery (2016) in the book, “They Can’t Kill Us All,” many individuals felt uncomfortable with the feeling to abide by all laws if the police themselves can’t treat all ethnicities with fairness.   

Salvador Calvo’s tragic drama, Adu, which marks Salvador’s second feature as a director,tells a story quite often told, a story of black Africans treated like caged beasts. The dramatic story this film tells opens our eyes to the shocking event that took place in 2018, when more than 70 million North African refugees escaped to Europe for a better future. Adu is a reflection of racial discrimination with a particular focus on this North African migration. Combining three stories, the film uses chillingly convincing performances that make the viewer feel as if they are a character in the middle of it all. The first story is about immigrants attempting to cross a border, resulting in a guard killing a refugee where the guard is later put on trial. The second story is about a man from Spain who tries to protect elephants from being poached and going extinct. The third and main story is about Adu, an innocent boy who escapes Cameroon with his sister after the mother is brutally killed. While every story in this film is important to address, the first story of the immigrants creates a particularly strong  emotional response towards the plight of ending racial discrimination.

The very first scene takes place at the border in Melilla, “a Spanish autonomous city located on the northwestern coast of Africa sharing a border with Morocco.” The shots are jarring, fast-paced cuts of immigrants attempting to climb over a barbed fence and cross over the border to Melilla. This moment immediately takes the viewer into overwhelming imagery of violence as  white border guards violently attack the immigrants.   

The scene reveals Miguel, a border guard, hitting Tatou, an immigrant, with a baton over the head. Tatou, clinging to the fence for his life, falls and dies. Miguel distinguishes himself as superior by means of violence and intimidation, which is portrayed when the other immigrants are physically afraid and can only shed tears. In the meantime, Miguel shows no sympathy. He leaves the dead body lying there, giving himself a place in the history of racial discrimination where black Africans met the same bloody, brutal fate at  the hands of white oppressors who viewed black people as less human, especially during the long slave-trading period in North Africa. The presence of the baton is also a symbolic way of suggesting a world in which black deaths are tied to the unrelenting aggression of white officers. Just this year, the world saw the killing of George Floyd when Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes.

In the film, the word “law enforcement” becomes profoundly ironic where safety and order are kept through violence. It’s a world where black people fear authorities more than criminals, where the innocent are punished in pursuit of the guilty. A world where the so-called “immigrant sinners,” who wish to seek justice for brutality, are struck down by white systemic oppression. The critical point that sets this theme further in motion comes about during the trial of Miguel. The court rules in his favour, and Miguel easily escapes justice by covering the truth about his killing of Tatou. The court works alongside Miguel, not against him, contrasted with the way the black immigrants were brutally treated during the opening scene. This unfair court ruling reflects very well a sense of betrayal by white people in power, which leaves behind a bleak future of more discrimination.

It’s on this grim note that the film reminds me of the inconceivable level of injustice taking place in our so-called fair world, which future generations may be trapped in if this corrupt seed remains rooted. The story of the border guards, in relation to the main heartbreaking story of Adu, might be minor compared to the rest of the film, but nevertheless, it sends an important message about a way of injustice that is both inhumane and ugly.


Image Source: Still from Adu, CommonSenseMedia, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/adu