‘The Pirates of Somalia’ Sheds Light on Struggling African Nation

The transition from college to the real world is never easy, and this has been especially true for those graduating during an economic downturn. The true story of one exceptionally resourceful and daring young grad is the focus of “The Pirates of Somalia,” a film that premiered this past April at the Tribeca Film Festival under the title “Dabka.” Evan Peters stars as Jay Bahadur, a young man from Toronto who finds himself in limbo following his 2007 graduation from university. Jay aspires to make a living as a journalist, but one year post grad he finds himself living in his parents’ basement, working a market research job, and still feeling bitter about a failed high school relationship. Jay aspires to go on to grad school at Harvard to study journalism, but keeps hitting walls in attempts to build up his resume.

Things take a turn after Jay throws out his back shoveling snow and finds himself at a doctor’s office sitting next to legendary journalist Seymour Tobin (Al Pacino), a tough old guy who tells the younger man that in order to make it as a “big dick-swinging” journalist, he needs to abandon his academic plans and gain experience in the field. A common piece of advice often given to graduates is to find a niche that needs to be filled and fill it, and Jay takes this to the extreme when he makes plans to head to Somalia, the impoverished African nation so dangerous that no major outlet has dared to send a reporter. Having written a paper on the country in college, Jay feels confident enough to make the journey half-way across the world to interview the infamous Somali pirates. Surprisingly, his parents raise little objection, especially his easy-going yogi mother (Melanie Griffith).

The story really picks up one Jay lands in Somalia. Up until this point, he comes off as somewhat bitter and even entitled (the unnecessary overuse of voice over in the beginning doesn’t do much to endear him to the viewer), but is forced to grow up real fast in his new surroundings. Oscar-nominated actor Barkhad Abdi breathes a lot of life into the film as Abdi, Jay’s translator who proves to be invaluable, arranging his interviews with top pirate leaders, among other things.

While it would be easy to make the people Jay encounters one-dimensional caricatures, writer-director Bryan Buckley explores the complex issues facing Somalia and its people without being heavy handed. Predictably, there’s humor is milked from how the west perceives the African nation and visa versa, and Canadian Jay’s being frequently being mistaken for American is a running joke.

“The Pirates of Somalia” also serves as a commentary on what can perceived as apathy and the decline of appreciation for quality stories and journalism in most of the world. Despite his big gamble, Jay has a hard time pitching his proposed book on the pirate’s plight during a time when people were obsessed with “Twilight.” It’s not until a certain incident involving one Captain Phillips does the world take notice of this little country with the fledgling democracy, and Jay for the first time finds himself in real danger. Up until this point, he only flirted with danger by striking up a casual friendship with Maryn, the wife of top pirate Garaad (Mohamed Osmail Ibrahim), played by the charming Sabrina Hassan, one of the many talented African actors showcased here.

The Pirates of Somalia” opens Dec. 8 in select theaters.