John Sumonu becomes disabled after an injection is wrongly administered at infancy. This affects his enrolment in school, making him start his primary education at 10 years or around then. Undeterred, he completes his secondary education and even enrolls in a tertiary institution to study Accountancy. Unbroken is the story of this young married father of one, whose life will challenge many an able bodied man or woman.
The overriding fact about Toyin Poju-Oyemade’s Unbroken is that Sumonu is not from a privileged background; but a young man who through hard work and perseverance is unrelenting in achieving his dreams against all odds. In the scene where John’s class rep recounts all the things John is doing; which he with his body intact has been unable to do; we are reminded that determination is indispensable if one must succeed in any venture or in life altogether.
Sumonu’s single-mindedness is seen in all his pursuits: as the accountant at Freedom Park, a para-sportsman and a vocalist in church. The distance he commutes to and from work – with all the traffic congestion – is capable of frustrating the bravest of Lagosians, but John seems to bear it with equanimity.
The film is also a worthy tribute to Theo Lawson, the Captain of Freedom Park, Lagos, who gave Mr. Sumonu the chance to prove himself in Lawson’s organization as an accountant. Oftentimes, the discrimination that handicapped people face in a bid to be gainfully employed becomes more harrowing than their disability.
Sumonu has proved beyond every reasonable doubt that disability is not always a setback if one uses one’s intellect or skills maximally. Apart from a few physically challenged individuals in this part of the world, the typical life of such a person is marked by dependence on others for sustenance. Yet, the developed world is replete with stories of individuals, who rose above their handicaps to thrive in various vocations. Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Kim Wickes and a host of other people from all walks of life fall within this category. In Nigeria, Cobhams Asuquo, the blind musician, pianist and music producer is a ready example.
Disability, though enervating, does not mean that one has to become an encumbrance to one’s folks. Unfortunately, in many cases, it is the family that causes this problem. They treat their handicapped offspring with pity, failing to make him or her explore the talents he or she has. In Sumonu’s case, his parents did not enrol him in school until he was 10 years old, an age where many pupils are preparing to begin their secondary education.
In other cases, parents treat their handicapped children as if the children chose their disabilities themselves and fail to protect them from taunts and discrimination in the hands of the handicapped children’s siblings. Schools must always penalize students who deride their physically challenged fellows.
Government should pay attention to special schools established for the physically challenged and children with special needs, so as to make these children as self-reliant as possible and reduce the menace of street begging. They should also provide pathways for easy movement of the handicapped, so that people like Sumonu will cease to see the wheelchair as equipment that impedes motion.
The visual content of the film is robust. Poju-Oyemade follows Sumonu home to observe how he spends his typical day and, interestingly, we see how he participates in the monthly environmental sanitation exercise. His love story with his wife, Ruth, and their relationship with their daughter will enchant anyone any day.
Like someone noted during the screening of the film, the shot where the film-maker shows John moving whilst his daughter struggles with her first steps is also indicative that good things can result from not-so-pleasant experiences; in other words a second generation can jump where a first generation is inhibited by circumstances from doing so.