BEN AND ARA
SUN | YOSHI’S | 4PM-6PM
Ben, a passionately agnostic PhD student, falls behind in his dissertation and is surprised to find a muse in Ara, a devout Muslim. Ben and Ara soon fall in love but grapple with differences in their core beliefs and lifestyle choices. They discover that when two cultures touch each other, the consequences can be magical and tragic.
NNEGEST LIKKE is passionate filmmaker with 10 years of experience working as a professional writer/director in Hollywood. Early in her career, she caught the attention of a top Hollywood film producer who optioned one of her screenplays after reading it. The film was never produced, but Nnegest took his interest in her script as a sign to keep writing. As a means of earning a living while writing specs scripts, Nnegest got her teaching credential and taught English, History and Drama for 4 years at a Los Angeles high school. While on the job, she discovered a new passion for mentoring at-risk youth which she continues to do today.
Nnegest continued her climb up the industry ladder when she was courted to go work for reality genre pioneers, Renegade 83/Gold Coast Entertainment as a segment producer on their popular, hit reality series, Blind Date. Pursuing her passion for “talk” and advice-giving, Nnegest created, produced and co-hosted her own talk show, ‘The Trace and Negest Show’ which aired in Los Angeles for 3 years. Recognizing her talents behind and in front of the camera, Renegade 83/Gold Coast picked up the show for production and it was sold to Lifetime Network.
Expanding her experience in the entertainment industry, the internationally distributed feature film, Phat Girlz by Fox Studios, starring Academy Award winner, Mo’Nique marked Nnegest’s feature film debut. As the Writer and Director of the film, Nnegest had the opportunity to learn every aspect of studio filmmaking, from casting to all stages of pre through post-production and marketing. After Phat Girlz, Nnegest took time off from the industry to travel abroad. While doing so, she was able to network with international television and film producers and began freelance work, writing, directing, producing and consulting in Europe and Africa.
Nnegest is currently in post-production on her 3rd feature film, Everything But A Man, starring Monica Calhoun (The Best Man franchise), Camille Winbush (The Bernie Mac Show), and Jimmy Jean-Louis (Heroes, Joy).
My childhood was very unique. I grew up in a large extended family which included an eclectic mix of Americans, Africans, Christians, Muslims, agnostics, an aunt who was openly gay (before being openly gay was acceptable) and a polygamist uncle.
Because my mom was an avid globetrotter, I also got the rare opportunity – unlike most kids from the inner-city neighborhood I grew up in – to actually travel all over the world, from my Father’s native Africa, including the East, West and Islamic North, to Europe where I got exposed to various other ways of life besides those known in America.
Thanks to this early exposure to diversity, tolerance of other people’s beliefs, cultures, lifestyles and religions is something I never had to learn. I took for granted that all people were regarded as equal and that our differences were not something that could divide or separate us.
It was not until I was a young teen that I learned different, when a Muslim cousin of mine, wearing her hijab and jilbab (traditional Muslim head wrap and long dress) and I were out shopping and onlookers were staring and laughing at her. (This was before 9-11 when Islam was not yet a symbol of fear and terrorism.)
Around that same time period, I would also come to learn (due to negative images in the media) how African culture was viewed by Western culture as weird, backwards, uncivilized and less than human. At best, Africa was depicted as a continent plagued by drought, famine and disease, and its people portrayed as helpless victims in need of pity, food rations and foreign aid.
Nowhere on TV or in films did they show the love, strength, beauty, and rich history I had witnessed while visiting there. None of my school books mentioned Africa as being the birthplace of art, science and civilization itself.
After my rude awakening, I began dreaming of making movies that showed Africans the way they really were. As dignified, self-empowered, intelligent people, who while having different customs than those practiced in the west, were no less civilized or human.
My desire to show Africans in an authentic light eventually expanded into my desire to tell authentic stories about other groups of people I had firsthand experience with. Like the Muslims I knew who were as far from being terrorists as the Christians I knew.
My first feature film, Phat Girlz told the story of a plus-size, African-American woman who finds love with a rich, handsome doctor from Africa, where plus-size is traditionally considered more attractive than skinny. As a filmmaker, I love the challenge of turning stereotypes on their heads and showing the truth behind the stereotypes.
So when producers, Joe Baird and Constance Ejuma approached me about directing Ben & Ara, a cross-cultural love story between an American, agnostic PhD student and a beautiful, intelligent, African Islamic woman also studying for her PhD, I jumped at the opportunity. These are the kind of movies I feel lucky to make and the kind I think the world needs more of.
As the two characters’ passion-filled story unfolds, they both get the chance to learn about and experience each other’s cultures and different ways of life and belief systems. In the end, their lives are enriched by the experience they had with one another.
Ben & Ara is a very important film in today’s political climate where “Muslim” is synonymous with “terrorist” and Africa is still portrayed in the media as being backwards and uncivilized. True Muslims are not terrorists and Africans are not sub-human. They are people just like you and I.
No matter the budget, I will always say yes to a job that allows me to use my art as a medium to eradicate ignorance and spread the message of tolerance and love. I believe ignorance is our greatest enemy, not other people.