I Interviewed Romeo on video Sunday afternoon while we walked around the Oscar preparations at Hollywood and Highlands Blvds.
Romeo operates RomeoBashirFilms.com.
He was born in Mogadishu around 1983 and adopted by SOS Childrens Villages.
Luke: "Were you anywhere near [the events described in the 2001 movie] Black Hawk Down?"
Romeo: "I was living in Mogadishu at the time."
According to Wikipedia: "With the collapse of the central government in 1991, Mogadishu has been the stage for 17 years of fighting between rival militias. Years of civil unrest and uncontrolled insurgencies against Ethiopian occupation have transformed Mogadishu into one of the most dangerous and lawless cities in the world."
Romeo: "It was something that was a little disturbing. It was something that I don’t think I want to relive ever again."
Luke: "Were you one of the kids with submachine guns out there firing?"
Romeo: "No, not at all.
"I was privileged to be in SOS at the time it was happening, so I did not have any access to any arms."
Luke: "SOS didn’t offer you any submachine guns?"
Romeo: "No. That’s not the point of SOS."
Luke: "What did your parents do for a living?"
Romeo: "My parents are SOS parents. They’re just adopted. It’s a different system. It’s not the same as regular families in other parts of the world where they have a father and a mother and other kids around. SOS has a different perspective on raising families. It’s amazing how they raise kids. We grow up with the same kind of care and love we could possibly ask for."
Luke: "Do you know your birth parents?"
Luke: "So you grew up in an SOS home?"
Romeo: "In an SOS facility, yes, in Mogadishu."
"I was brought in in 1985, about three years after I was born, based on the information I was provided. I don’t have any birth certificate or recollection."
"SOS started in 1949 after the end of World War II. They have the same mission wherever they go in the world. They save the souls of the kids. And they make sure that any kids who have been left behind get the chance to lead their lives as normal children. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be here today."
Luke: "How many kids were in the home you grew up in?"
Romeo: "At the moment I joined, there were nine. Then we went to 15 kids in one house. Then when the war started, some people came to reclaim their kids… Our house came close to being closed several times, but we managed."
Luke: "How did the war affect you?"
Romeo: "Psychologically, it left me with more of a memory thing, bad memories, something I’m determined to overcome in any way possible. I don’t feel like it has affected me much beyond having flashback memories of being disappointed that I was in the middle of this mess and that it made it impossible for me to retrace anybody who was immediate family. It just made everything impossible."
Luke: "How close were you to the fighting?"
Romeo: "I lived in the middle of it. We were in the middle of Mogadishu. Everything’s close by, surrounding you, including the US Army and the peacekeeping mission came to Somalia, I could see some of that come to the village, especially the Italian peacekeeping forces."
Luke: "What were the attitudes of the warlords to SOS?"
Romeo: "They used to protect SOS because they had a common interest — the kids are Somali kids. The kids came under a lot of scrutiny and attack simply because they were a part of SOS. If you are being raised by foreigners, they see you as being Christian or being abused, these white people are raising them, we should take them out. It was crazy."
"I’m not somebody who follows a religion."
Luke: "What kind of education did you get?"
Romeo: "College (Kenya, where me majored in IT). High school (in Ghana). I was more of a playful person."
"I was much more focused on entertainment. That’s why I decided to come to Los Angeles. I got an internship in San Diego."
Luke: "How has America surprised you?"
Romeo: "Not so much. It’s about living glamor. Living rich and large and you’ll get the girl."
Luke: "Who are your favorite movie directors?"
Romeo: "My favorite director by far is Michael Bay. I also like Martin Scorsese. As far as producers go, Steven Spielberg and Jerry Bruckheimer. My favorite movie is Slumdog Millionaire."
Luke: "So how is SOS helping you get started in Hollywood?"
Romeo: "SOS East Africa had limited services it provided me. I pretty much took care of myself here. They brought me to the US."
Luke: "What are the biggest misconceptions Americans have about Africa?"
Romeo: "Number one, religious ideology. Number two, reporting the wrong things most of the time, not understanding what is really happening, and focusing on one particular issue instead of focusing on all. I’ve met people who live around here who think Africa has only a forest and a bunch of kids with big stomachs. Africa is a beautiful continent. It is well invested and well taken care of."
"Africa has many religious ideologies. When you go to one country, it has a more extreme ideology. When you go to another, it is more moderate. One country harbors people who are extremists. To understand what Africans think of from a religious perspective, you have to live in Africa to understand it. They always look at the rest of the world as trying to oppress them, trying to look at their beliefs as more extreme and not usual and coexisting with the rest of the world. That’s why Africa is left behind most of the time with many topics when the United Nations is having discussions, including religion. Religion is a beautiful thing and it should not be misused for the wrong things based on color, gender. They always mix up and it makes it difficult being African and being in a particular religion and try to live in a society that looks at you differently."
Luke: "Why are Africans so excited about Barack Obama?"
Romeo: "They’re looking at him as an idol. They see him as a renewed face for America on their behalf. It’s important that somebody like him becomes a president. He is the president fortunately in the US. He’s somebody whose family [father] was born in Africa. He has very well known roots to Kenya. It makes it a whole lot easier for people to relate to him real quick and say, ‘If he can achieve, so can I.’ In the same way he said, ‘If you set your mind on something, you will accomplish it. Just make sure that you stick with it and follow through with it.’ It gives people a lot of hope that you can accomplish anything anywhere in the world, especially if you live in America because there are endless possibilities. That is one reason I came because I have more opportunities within my career living in California."
Luke: "I think Kenya declared a national holiday."
Romeo: "Yeah. November 4th. They call it Obama day."
Luke: "What do you think of that?"
Romeo: "I think it’s awesome… It’s a symbol of freedom rather than a symbol of color."
Luke: "It’s a symbol that a black person can accomplish anything."
Romeo: "Correct. It’s a symbol that if you live in a nation where most people are of a particular color, someone from elsewhere can make a difference. A lot of it has to do with how America provided room for such things to happen. Go to Russia. You wouldn’t get such an opportunity to do that. Go to particular countries in the world and particular people of color and gender would not be able to succeed to the government."
Luke: "Do you think America is more of a force for good in the world or more of a force for evil?"
Romeo: "A force for good. The reason that it has been misinterpreted that way was because of the administration that was there at the time made a lot of difficult choices which resulted in negative impacts throughout the world. It made it difficult for them to realize that the other side of the world, the people who live there have feelings on how they are being treated, regardless of whether they are being invaded. When you go into somebody’s country, they look at it not as you coming for peacekeeping but as you invading their privacy. It’s somebody coming to your house and say because a bunch of you in your house are not getting along, I’m going to move in to make sure you get along. It’s invading some nation’s privacy regardless of whether that nation is OK with it or not. I’m sure there a diplomatic ways to handle it."
Luke: "Do you think the lives of Africans will be any better because Barack Obama is president?"
Romeo: "Yes. Africans will have more opportunities to do what they want to do because at least they have somebody of their own kind who has the authority to rule things accordingly."
Luke: "How specifically do you think it will make any difference? Will fewer Africans catch malaria? Will there be more aid given by the United States?"
Romeo: "Let’s say that more aid will be able to be provided to Africa because they have somebody of their own kind who has an in-depth feeling and understanding of what is going on there. On the other hand, Africa will have less tension about being perceived as a continent [filled with] human trafficking, terrorism, and a lot bad stuff that has been perceived for the past eight years. It kinda gives a break from what’s happening and gives them immunity from certain things that have been looked for for the past whatever years. It’s pretty cool."
Luke: "If you were to live in Africa, where would you like to live?"
Romeo: "Good question. I think I’m OK living in America."
Luke: "I know you love it here, but if you were to go back for a year or two, where would you most like to live in Africa?"
Romeo: "Africa is beautiful and big. Anywhere that meets my needs. It’s hard to specify. I feel happy being in America. I feel lucky and alive and able to do anything that I want to do. That’s why I wouldn’t trade anytime soon unless something happens."