By John Esther
From the terrains of Uganda to the rings of Philadelphia, PA, Kassim "The Dream" Ouma has been fighting for various reasons throughout his entire life.
As chronicled in Kief Davidson's worthwhile documentary, Kassim the Dream, Ouma was kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda at the age of 6 and forced to kill.
(What the LRA was fighting for is not explained in the film. To put it simply, it was a military power grab in the name of God).
While kids in America were practicing shooting human beings and monsters in their imaginations, video games and play, Ouma and many other kids like him were torturing their fellow men, women, and children. Unlike American kids who may be grounded for not playing fair, failing to prey by the LRA resulted in torture and death. For a child whose only concept of resistance is tyranny a la the LRA, Ouma could not envision anything but cooperation -- something he has not entirely outgrown.
As Ouma grew older his conscious developed along with his boxing skills. At the symbolic age of 18 when Americans officially become adults, Ouma took on a grave amount of responsibility for himself and defected to the United States. This transgression against those now in power back in Uganda resulted in the torture and murder of Ouma's father.
Homeless and unable to speak English, Ouma persevered in America. As he picked up English Ouma also rose up in the boxing ranks, eventually becoming the Junior Middleweight Champion of the World.
Yet the horrors of his childhood continued to bother Ouma. Although he managed to bring his mother and first son to America (he already had one son here), the 29-year-old Ouma wished to return to the homeland. But if he wants to do that he has many questionable obstacles to overcome, some the viewer may wish to cheer for more than others. As Ouma trains for a world title fight against Jermain Taylor in Little Rock, Arkansas, he also needs to appease the notorious government of Uganda that was responsible for his abduction and father's murder if he wants to get home.
A contradicting mixture of joviality and melancholy, courage and cowardice, insight and stupidity, Ouma is a complex character I found worth cheering for at times and sneering at during others. Ouma can crack jokes and wain reflexive on the differences between his grand life in North America and the tragic one back on the African continent. Ouma may have the heart to train heavily before the big fight, but he does not have the discipline to refrain from smoking pot and consuming alcohol (although he does manage to keep his "grease").
Ouma understands the utter poverty of his homeland but embraces, without seemingly any pause, the materialism of his new one without ever noticing the two are indeed connected. That his trainer, "Uncle" Tom Morgan, a strident anti-Bush artist and politically minded American, fails to instill this in the young man warrants some inquiry .
A moving portrait of a complex character who gradually matures as the film goes by, it would be interesting to see what Ouma has done for himself, his past, and his two countries in the future.