Executive produced by Gianni’s “Greek Freak” Thanasis, “Rise” follows the story of the NBA star and his brothers, Thanasis and Kostas Antetokounmpos. The film tells the story of the early lives of the Greek-born brothers of Nigerian descent. Through their family’s determination, faith, perseverance and work ethic, they rose above their circumstances and difficulties to become sports phenomena and famous names. The real life brothers Uche and Ral Agada portraits of Giannis and Thanasis, respectively.
The story of the Antetokounmpos brothers begins in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1990. Their parents, Charles and Vera Antetokounmpo (Dayo Okeniyi and Yetide Badaki), makes the appalling choice to leave their homeland to Greece and leave their firstborn infant son with relatives.
So often, Disney movies smooth out some of the uglier things that plague human society. But by showcasing Charles and Vera’s journey from Lagos to Istanbul and eventually Athens, award-winning Nigerian film director Akin Omotoso refuses to give in to racism, xenophobia, humiliation and everything else the two encounter. Yet he never dwells on these dark aspects of the narrative – this story is about family ties and the will to see an almost impossible future.
As newcomers, the Agada brothers do a good job here, and the film focuses on things like Giannis’ birth in 1994 and a fateful moment in the park when he was first fascinated by the game of basketball. Unlike many sports movies, the actual game is not the true star here.
Instead, the real star of the film is the Antetokounmpos family unit. Their immigration status and lack of finances have stepped through the narrative, but they always appear in vivid colors on a modest but warm background. Okeniyi and Badaki’s achievements are particularly effective as two hardworking and proud people who are determined to create a better life for their five sons. Without dwelling on the injustices of family faces, Omotoso also criticizes the eroding immigration systems across the globe and the inhumanities that humans face as a result.