LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Since President Trump’s September decision to end DACA, Hollywood actor Bambadjan Bamba has been preparing for his coming out.
The “Black Panther” actor had not publicly revealed his immigration status, but Tuesday he took the bold step of joining a campaign to legalize immigrants like him, becoming the public face of DACA recipients working in Hollywood. Known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program granted temporary resident status to an estimated 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
“We know the industry is run by a lot of immigrants,” Bamba tells Variety. “There are immigrant actors,” he said, adding that “Hollywood can play a big part in at least changing policy so that it can be easier for actors to work in Hollywood.”
Bamba, 35, has managed to work for a decade in Hollywood, thanks in part to a work permit secured through DACA. He is currently has a recurring role on NBC’s “The Good Place” and will play a military leader in the upcoming Marvel film, “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler.
“I’m going public first and foremost because I’m sick and tired of living in fear and hiding about this issue,” he said. “I’ve kind of been in this status for 25 years of my life. I remember when the administration decided to cancel DACA ― that was the last straw for me because not only am I married, but I have a daughter now. I didn’t feel like I could still sit back and keep hitting the snooze button.”
Bamba was just 10 years old when, fleeing persecution, he came to the U.S. with his parents from the West African country of Ivory Coast. He grew up in the south Bronx, developing his English-speaking skills by listening to hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg and Mase.
It wasn’t until he began applying for colleges that he learned the legal realities of his immigration status, which made him ineligible for financial aid. He worked as a cab driver to help pay for drama school.
By coming out now to share his story, Bamba said he hopes his and the efforts of others can convince Congress to pass a bill that would legalize Dreamers, immigrants brought into the country as children. He is issuing a challenge to the entertainment industry to lend its support to the cause, particularly after a largely muted response to Trump’s decision to rescind the immigration program.
“Because Hollywood is so powerful and can change culture, I hope that they would stand with me not just on social media but take concrete actions,” he said.
No official tally of how many Dreamers work in the entertainment business exists. But analysts project the number is high, considering Hollywood is one of the region’s biggest employers. The California Employment Development Dept. estimates there are 140,000 people in the entertainment industry, which pumps billions into the Los Angeles economy.
Bamba said he wants to see entertainment companies be more proactive in protecting vulnerable employees, pointing out the efforts by tech industry leaders who have pledged to pay immigration lawyers’ fees for affected employees. They have also pledged to lobby Congress to find a permanent solution. He is asking people to sign his petition asking Hollywood to stand with immigrants.
“My goal is to get a clean Dream Act passed,” Bamba said. “That’s what we are all fighting for right now.”