What brings people together? I have thought about this while growing up, and my understanding has evolved with time. When I was young, I believed religion brought people together. When I stopped being religious, I understood that it was the shared values among people that brought them together. When I made friends from different races, I realized that people’s openness to share their differences became a factor that united everyone. Lately, my realization has evolved that neither religion nor shared values unite people; instead, it is vulnerability that brings people together. This idea was reinforced recently when I watched Apple TV+’s new series ‘Little America’.
Created by Lee Eisenberg, Emily V. Gordon, and Kumail Nanjiani, ‘Little America‘ is an anthology series on Apple TV+ consisting of eight heartfelt stories based on real-life chronicles with a common theme that weaves the entire series together, i.e. the American dream, or in other words, lives of immigrants in America. The series begins with a story of a 12-year-old Indian boy named Kabir, who is left to run his family-owned motel in Utah after his parents are forced to return to India to fix some immigration paperwork. While waiting for his parents and running the motel, Kabir becomes a spelling bee champion, gets a chance to visit The White House, and pleads with the then First Lady Laura Bush to help his parents return to the US. The episode narrates Kabir’s hopeful coming-of-age story and his optimistic wait to meet his parents again. The other stories cover similar themes – an undocumented Hispanic immigrant and her tryst with a squash coach who helps her realize her purpose, a Nigerian immigrant and his journey of identifying himself with Oklahoma’s cowboy culture, the spiritual journey of a French immigrant and the beauty of communicating in a silent retreat, an immigrant from Uganda who continues her family tradition of baking by risking it all to become a baker in Louisville, a snapshot of the life of a single South Asian mother and her two kids when she wins her dream prize i.e. family trip on an Alaskan cruise, an Iranian immigrant and his never-give-up attitude to buy real estate to get a sense of belongingness in America, and the promising tale of a man fleeing Syria to save himself from the wrath of society due to his sexual orientation and to find solace in America as a free man.
From a storytelling point of view, it is difficult to maintain the same tonality if the movie’s backdrop keeps changing. To add to that, imagine the complexity if there are eight different stories with eight unique characters in eight contrasting settings. It is for this reason that Little America is a clear champion. Although diverse storylines, the web series manages to put a smile on your face and somewhere fills your heart with hope. It is fair to say that Little America is one of the most promising web series of 2020. While all characters and stories are praiseworthy, I would like to mention three performances for different reasons – Haaz Sleiman, who plays Rafiq’s role. Playing the role of a gay Syrian, Sleiman gets you rooting for him from the first scene itself, and you could almost feel his pain when he is judged for his personal choices. Two other roles where the actors gave spirited performances were that of Suraj Sharma playing the role of Kabir and Ravi Kapoor playing the role of his father Kishan. Both the actors have played their role in an earnest manner so much so that you feel the pain that both the characters are going through. I have had the pleasure of meeting them while attending the DFW South Asian Film Festival and the DC South Asian Film Festival for a film I had worked on and I can attest that both actors have gone from strength to strength in terms of their performances.
Watching the stories of 8 immigrants struck a chord with me not because I am an immigrant, but because the stakes in this show are universal. We see a Ugandan immigrant risking it all to become a baker, and there is a different beauty to this unadulterated story that tells us about hope, heartbreak, and success – something that we all go through.
If we take a closer look at all the stories, we realize that each episode has one universal quality that unites us – we are vulnerable individuals marching towards our goals trying our best and putting on a strong face, hoping somewhere along the way, we win our own version of the Alaskan cruise holiday (dream prize).
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel