Review: ‘Aisha’ (2022), starring Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor

May 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

Letitia Wright in “Aisha” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aisha” (2022)

Directed by Frank Berry

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland, the dramatic film “Aisha” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and a few Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young Nigerian woman seeks asylum in Ireland and experiences various immigration problems around the same time that she and an Irish man develop a friendship. 

Culture Audience: “Aisha” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s headliners and low-key dramas that have realistic portrayals of immigration issues in Ireland.

Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor in “Aisha” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aisha” is a well-acted drama that authentically depicts the quiet desperation and loneliness that refugees can experience. Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor give poignant performances as two people who form a tender friendship amid immigration uncertainty. Wright portrays a Nigerian immigrant seeking asylum in Ireland, while O’Connor portrays the native Irishman who befriends her. Thankfully, “Aisha” doesn’t devolve into cringeworthy cliches that most narrative films usually have when they cover the complicated and sensitive subject matter of refugee immigration.

Written and directed by Frank Berry, “Aisha” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and was released later that year in Ireland and the United Kingdom. The movie takes place in unnamed cities in Ireland, where “Aisha” was filmed on location. The story’s timeline shows a few months in the life of Aisha Osagie (played by Wright), who has been living in Ireland for a little more than a year when the story begins.

Aisha, who is in her late 20s, does not have any family members with her in Ireland, where the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) handles refugee cases. She has applied for permanent residency and is waiting for an interview with IPAS officials to determine if her application is approved or denied. In the meantime, Aisha lives with other immigrants in an accommodation center, where she has been assigned by IPAS.

She has a compassionate immigration attorney named Peter Flood (played by Lorcan Cranitch), who has meetings with Aisha to advise her and discuss their case strategy. Aisha doesn’t want anyone’s pity, and she doesn’t want to live off of charity handouts. She wants to be a hard-working, law-abiding resident who can start a new and safe life in Ireland.

Aisha’s story isn’t revealed immediately but is told in various conversations that she has with people. Aisha is alone in Ireland because her father and brother were killed in a home invasion by a group of men who are her father’s debtors. He borrowed money from these men so that Aisha could go to a university in Nigeria. She studied geography and regional planning at the university but had to drop out, presumably because of what happened to her family.

Aisha’s widowed mother Moraya Osagie (played by Rosemary Aimiyekagbon) can’t afford to leave Nigeria. In Ireland, Aisha works part-time as an assistant at a beauty salon and sends some of her salary money back to her mother. A few scenes in the movie show Aisha talking with her mother by video calls. Aisha and Moraya have a very good mother/daughter relationship, but Aisha doesn’t tell her mother certain things if she thinks this information will upset Moraya.

Aisha is a quiet loner who is friendly but doesn’t get too close to the people she meets. However, Aisha has developed a bond with the three people who share a room with her: a young mother named Habiba Momoh (played by Antionette Doyle); Habiba’s son Abdul Momoh (played by Emmanuel Hassan); and Habiba’s daughter Ruykaya Momoh (played by Florence Adebambo). The movie doesn’t show how Aisha got to know this family, but they are also from Africa, and are the closest that Aisha has to family members in Ireland.

A company called Embankment Security works for IPAS in doing inspections at IPAS accommodation centers. A newly hired Embankment Security guard named Conor Healy (played by O’Connor), who’s about the same age as Aisha, first sees her when he and some colleagues are at the accommodation center where she lives. The Embankment Security guards later come back with garda (Irish police), under orders to take away Habiba, Abdul and Ruykaya, who get deported to the United Kingdom.

This separation is understandably very upsetting to Aisha and witnessed by Conor, who is helpless to do anything about it. Aisha is usually quiet, but she also has a very assertive side to her. When the Momoh family is being taken away, Aisha says that the family has a right to call IPAS, but the accommodation center manager Brendan Close (played Denis Conway) doesn’t want to to hear this truth and treats Aisha like a she’s a rebellious pest. Brendan hints that he could make life miserable for Aisha if she continues to question him.

Brendan and Aisha clash during another incident where she stands up to his tyrannical style of managing. One day at the accommodation center, Aisha asks a kitchen worker to heat up a small container of homemade halal in the kitchen’s microwave. Brendan is nearby and strictly forbids it because he says that Aisha and other accommodation center residents can only eat the food provided by the accommodation center.

Aisha and Brendan have a short-lived argument about it. She eventually has to do what Brendan says. Conor witnesses this verbal conflict. When Conor is alone with Aisha, he tells her to meet him later at the kitchen so that she can use the microwave oven for the food she wants to have. It’s the start of a friendship that is tentative at first but grows stronger as the story goes on.

Just like Aisha, Conor is quiet and a little withdrawn. However, he and Aisha eventually open up to each other about certain things in their lives. Conor also has a troubled past: He says he was in prison for six years for drug-related crimes. Conor also tells Aisha that his addictions are cocaine, meth and alcohol, but he has been clean and sober for the past three years.

Conor is currently living with his mother and is taking information technology classes, with the eventual goal to go to college. Nothing is revealed about Conor’s love life, but Aisha eventually tells Conor that she is separated from a husband who abandoned her shortly after the wedding in Nigeria. Aisha is not in contact with her estranged husband, and she doesn’t know where he is.

Conor is obviously attracted to Aisha, and she might feel the same way. But it should come as no surprise that Aisha is reluctant to get romantically involved with someone when she doesn’t know if she will be allowed to stay in Ireland. Aisha tells Conor that up front, but Conor is persistent and shows he wants to be a loyal friend who will be there for Aisha, no matter what happens.

Given these circumstances, a stereotypical movie would morph into an “against all odds” romantic courtship that overshadows the very stressful and life-changing matter of Aisha’s immigration issues. A stereotypical movie would also have Conor be some type of “savior” character. However, “Aisha” does not go down a typical route that movies like this usually take. For example, Conor is not in the movie as much as some viewers might think he will be.

“Aisha” never strikes a false note in showing not only the obstacles that refugees face in seeking asylum but also how authority figures can use or abuse their power in ways that can massively affect refugees. Wright and O’Connor give touching performances that go beyond the immigration issues because Aisha and Conor are both two lonely people who find a connection with each other during a time in their lives when they least expect it. “Aisha” has many moments of bleakness but it also offers hope that people at the lowest points of their lives can find other people who care and can make a positive difference.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Aisha” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 10, 2024. The movie was released in Ireland and the United Kingdom in November 2022.

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