Actor Bambadjan Bamba may be on the verge of stardom because of his role in the upcoming comic book superhero film Black Panther. But lately, he has been making headlines by revealing a secret he has kept for many years.
“I’m a black immigrant … and I’m undocumented,” said Bamba who plays a military leader in Black Panther.
Bamba who has film and TV credits under his belt, said he was a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. An administrative program set up during the administration of former President Barack Obama, DACA gives undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children temporary protection from deportation and lets them legally live and work in the country. But even with DACA protection, navigating Hollywood has been sometimes frustrating for Bamba.
“There were really a lot of opportunities missed because sometimes I get scripts and offers from outside the country, and I can’t go. Sometimes there are movies that are shooting in Canada, and I can’t even audition,” he said.
Even when an acting job comes his way, Bamba has found much of Hollywood to be unfamiliar with DACA.
“They’re like, ‘What is DACA?’ ” Then I tell them what DACA is. They’re like, ‘You know what, do you have a green card? Where is your passport?’ I’m like, I don’t have any of that. All I have is what the government requires for me to work legally,” Bamba said.
The decision to make his immigration status public comes with professional risks, but Bamba said not speaking out might be worse.
“I decided honestly to share my story when the [Trump] administration decided that they wanted to end DACA. I just knew that there were no other options for me — so either go out fighting or go out in fear.”
When Bamba was 10, his parents left their home in Ivory Coast in West Africa. The times were turbulent.
“When the first president passed away, the situation in Ivory Coast became very unpredictable, became a little crazy.” Bamba said. “The country was divided for a long time. There was a civil war. Thousands of people died. I had friends that died. I had family that died.”
The Bamba family moved to the South Bronx in New York City. He learned English by listening to hip-hop and watching television. He was a popular teenager in high school, known for his acting skills. His immigration status did not become an issue until it was time for college.
“So I started applying to different schools, and that’s when I found out that my financial aid didn’t get approved or doesn’t work out. So that’s when I had the conversation with my parents, and they kind of told me,” he said.
Bamba worked his way through college as a cabdriver in New York City, and eventually found work in Hollywood.
Trump, DACA and Hollywood
“You have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say, mostly,” President Donald Trump said in February in reference to DACA recipients, known informally as “Dreamers.” “They were brought here in such a way — it’s a very, very tough subject. We’re going to deal with DACA with heart.”
But in September, the president rescinded the DACA program and gave Congress until March to produce a legislative solution.
“Mr. President, you made a promise to the Dreamers. You told us that you will find a solution for us. So, we just want to hold you accountable to do that,” Bamba said.
A petition through the organization Define American asks Hollywood to support undocumented immigrants such as Bamba.
“I think Hollywood could do so much more just because of the power that we have in the media to shift the conversation.” Bamba continued, “[It is] the studios and the big production companies that I’m trying to encourage to have more skin in the game. You hire so many immigrants.”