Refugees In Film: Part 1

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By George Maskell, Sona Circle

It’s 2021, and streaming platforms are the new normal; for now, at least. The good news in all of this is that there is a much more efficient way to share information and relevant topics to the masses.

Refugees have been featured in Hollywood movies for years, but they were either minor storylines within the movie, or the movie did not get much media attention. The new addition of streaming sites has not only allowed Hollywood to tell more informative stories, but also low budget documentarians and movies with niche markets to prosper.

This is of a great benefit for the people at home, firstly because they get to some entertainment from their living rooms, and secondly to compound global issues that need widespread attention. Thus, bringing me to the first title in this series, which is why I have started with a big Hollywood flick that is centred on a refugee crisis way back in the early 1980’s.

The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019) (No Spoilers)

The red sea diving resort also known as ‘Operation Brothers’, revolves around the Ethiopian-Jewish activist Kebede Bimro (played by Michael K. Williams) and Mossad Agent Ari Levinson (Chris Evans), and the harrowing story of the mass evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from Ethiopia to Israel during a time of war and persecution.


Before we can even settle into the start of the movie, the shocking nature of the film and situation is thrust upon us. As the movie begins, we’re immediately shown a war party heading to destroy a village in northern Ethiopia and kill its inhabitants by order of the Marxist government of Ethiopia in the late 1970’s. Thus, the story of the refugees of the Ethiopian-Jewish community begins to unfold.


We are also introduced to the two main protagonists of this movie, whose bravery and heroics saved the lives of thousands of people. The character Kebede Bimro, who is based on the activist Farede Aklum, drives the films true narrative and so he provides the narration for the majority of this movie. The fact that we are hearing the story from this character’s point of view, drives home the torment he went through and the struggles he endured to see his people safe. The second protagonist is an Israeli Mossad agent by the name of Ari Levinson. Ari provides the final step in the puzzle for the freedom of the Ethiopian Jews, and accomplishes this through a secret operation tasked with extracting people from the Red Sea coastline. Both characters have met by the start of the movie, and Ari is the last piece that Kabede is missing.

The whole movie stays in a state of heightened pace throughout, mirroring the time sensitive situation that is unfolding. Mossad’s secret task force manages to hire a small coastline diving resort as cover/distraction from the Sudanese government near Port Sudan (a 12hr drive from the capital Khartoum) with a direct Sea link to Israel, the only thing needed, is to convert it into a working attraction as to not raise suspicion.


With the main hub of the movie set, the hard work begins. Kabede who is inconspicuously travelling to refugee camps in Sudan, begins to unveil a plan to travel day and night with small groups at a time through the Sudanese dessert. The aim being to reach the Mossad Red Sea diving resort and meet the navy divers who will take them to safety. We experience their perilous journey time and time again during the movie, and we get to feel only a small percentage of the pain these thousands of people suffered through; all for a slim chance of hope.

A Sudanese militia, hellbent on stopping not only the movement of the Ethiopians in this movie, but any attempt by others to lend a helping hand. They are constantly on edge during this movie, and there is an overarching sense that they may spring up on the resort at any time. The militia is led by Col. Abdel Ahmed (Chris Chalk), and Chalk brings a chillingly dark aura to the character, and gives the audience the impression that this is not a job for him; but rather, a sport.

Last Gasp

The tail end of the movie allows the audience to finally grasp the sheer severity of the whole operation and hopefully pushes for further reading about the true story; I know I was pushed to read more. Once wave after wave of people find safety among the large vessels headed for Israel, there is almost a sense of relief, but just when you think you have closure, it’s revealed that there are thousands more that will have to brave the journey and more that will not see the land of their ancestors.

Media backlash

The films initial release did face backlash and social media uproar due to the fact that Hollywood had once again glamourised the ‘white saviour’ complex. Another reason for the uproar, they did not show the infinite determination of the community and also the lasting trauma these people faced. Although lives were saved, the operation itself was poorly thought out. There was little to no regard for the integration of Ethiopian refugees once they reached Israel, or the culture shocks or future discrimination.

Honestly, they are valid points, they could’ve included more about the continued hardship afterwards and less about Israeli character’s family issues and homesickness. It almost felt like it degraded the struggle of the people they were trying to save. But on the other hand, I believe the movie to be a success because of the impact it has on the audience afterwards. By giving us the platform to discover these stories, they are essentially planting the seed to go and research, and discover just how massive the whole situation really was. To explore the history of Farede Aklum the man that sacrificed everything to free others.

Final Thoughts

If the movie will not persuade you to seek further knowledge, then they have one last trick; the credits. Just before the credit’s role, they include some base facts and statistics, before showing real footage of the landings in Israel, and enabling you to see the people whose story you’d seen unfolding in the 90 previous minutes.

“Tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees were smuggled out with the help of the Israeli navy and air force”

“There are currently more than 65 million displaced refugees around the world”

If these two lines were the only things I saw of the movie, they would still make me want to learn more and realise the scope of the problem’s refugees face today.

You’ve managed to make it this far; then you might be eager to read more about the topic. The story of Pnina Tamano-Shata, a child who was rescued during one of these missions and is now a minister in the Israeli government, is also available on the Sona Circle blog page or you can just use the link above.

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