Idil Ibrahim turns the Spotlight on Migration Stories in Film

IOM Office UN (NY)
4 min readFeb 10, 2020

The article was written by Abdirahman Olow, Migration Officer, IOM Office to the United Nations.

A raw still frame of the character Diarra shot by Cinematographer Dylan Verrechia in SEGA short film by Idil Ibrahim. Photo: Idil Ibrahim/2019

“Film breaks down barriers, it transports you to other places that you wouldn’t normally go and we do need that”

Idil Ibrahim is on a mission to change the film industry. As one of the few women of color working in the film industry as a director and producer, Ibrahim expresses her desire to drive change and tell more diverse stories. In 2018, The University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative examined 1,100 films and 48,757 characters between 2007–2017. The report found that during these ten years, out of 1,100 films examined, only 7.3 % of directors were women, of whom just four of them were women of color. The report also found that out of the 48,757 characters, 70% were white.

“You need to be able to see yourself in stories on screen. Historically film and TV has been dominated primarily by one vision. I am happy there has been a shift towards making an effort to have broader voices from all walks of life in the stories we consume and see. The world is full of so many diverse stories and I am happy to help bring those to life and to work hard to do that.”

“SEGA” — Putting spotlight on migration journeys

In summer 2018 Ibrahim released “SEGA,” her short film on migration to film festivals around the world. In February 2019, “SEGA” had its French premiere at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, the world’s biggest international festival for short films. “SEGA” was filmed in Senegal. Recently, the film took the award for Best Narrative Short at the 2019 Blackstar Film Festival.

SEGA Still 2

Ibrahim explains her reasoning for putting this story to film, saying “I was interested in exploring this issue (migration on film) because often times, we hear and see migration contextualized as being about “making it,” I was interested in talking about what “making it” really means. What does it mean for people who don’t reach their destinations. In my travels, I have met these migrants who were in liminal space, and they hadn’t reached where they intended to go and felt quite stuck.”

The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrants Project reports that at least 30,510 people died during irregular migration between 2014 and 2018. Not making it and returning alive is a stroke of luck considering the numerous fatalities of migrants. “SEGA” explores the emotions and shame that come with not making it at all and returning to the origin country.

“Migration is incredibly personal to me for a number of reasons because I feel like just within my family alone they have so many different histories and experiences of migration, some came for education, others were physically displaced by conflict. I always joke if my parents didn’t emigrate, they would’ve never met and I wouldn’t be here. I am a product of migration. My experience straddles this, having citizenship in one place, but also having family spread around the world”

Ibrahim hopes that “SEGA” resonates with audiences and shows that we are all worthy of compassion, dignity and understanding.


Ibrahim admits it is a Herculean effort to make a film: “You have to have the right kind of financial backing. But if you are committed or passionate enough, sometimes you just can’t let it go and that’s when you know you really love something because no one would voluntarily sign up for this kind of life if they didn’t love it and I feel grateful that I get to make a living doing it”

Ibrahim’s work has taken her to Zambia, Somalia, Kenya, Senegal, Mali, Japan and throughout Europe.

Next up for Ibrahim in 2020 is the release of the documentary, ‘The Bad-Ass Librarians Of Timbuktu’. The documentary follows the true story of a group of librarians who undertook a daring cultural evacuation to save ancient texts from Al Qaeda.

1st AD Fama Sow Director Idil Ibrahim and Lead Actor Alassane Sy rehearse a scene with Lamine Mbaye.

Amplifying Voices of Youth and Building Bridges through Film

The discourse on migration in the world today is incredibly divisive and alarming and Ibrahim has a desire to play a role in helping to counter this reality. Of the estimated 272 million international migrants in 2019, 14 percent (38 million migrants) were under 20 years of age in 2019. Young people have an important voice and stake in the global discussions around migration. IOM’s and UNAOC’s Plural + Youth Film Festival is one project helping to change this. Every year, PLURAL+ gives young people around the world the opportunity to express on the pressing social issues of migration, diversity, social inclusion, and the prevention of xenophobia.

Idil Ibrahim, PLURAL+2018 Jury Member, announcing PLURAL+2018 Winners in a Facebook live interview. United Nations Headquarters in New York. Photo: IOM/2018

Speaking on her work with Plural+ Youth Film Festival and the Global Migration Film Festival as an International Jury Member, Ibrahim reasons that “for me as a filmmaker its important in making sure that social issues in film are brought to the forefront. Telling stories in film is deeply impactful for audiences. Ibrahim continues “film breaks down barriers, it transports you to other places that you wouldn’t normally go, and we do need that”.



IOM Office UN (NY)

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