An Oprah Winfrey special elevated by Samson Chan’s gorgeous digital cinematography, “Emmanuel’s Gift” will bowl auds over with its emotion-laden story of a young man from Ghana born with a deformed leg who grows up to be an athlete and national hero. Winfrey herself narrates, and the entire enterprise directed by Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern is a sincere but fairly soft piece of ennobling journalism that gives a positive spin to some of Africa’s seemingly intractable problems. Fests will line up for screenings, while cable is a likely harbor for wider viewing.
Twenty-seven-year-old Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah is introduced as a standard-bearer for the disabled in Ghana, where ancient ways hold that anyone born with deformities is cursed and should not be helped. Emmanuel’s mission is to ride a bike — on one healthy leg and another prosthetic leg — across his country “to alter perceptions” about the disabled.
Rewinding to his past, viewers learn Emmanuel’s father Dickson left the family after the boy was born, which was the start of Emmanuel’s problems, including discrimination at school and being banned from the soccer team.
Docu never really explores what made Emmanuel strive for success, what made him different from Ghana’s 2 million-plus disabled, many of them unemployed and on the desperate margins of the capital city of Accra. However, Emmanuel came into contact with a global network of support for disabled athletes when he wrote to the California-based Challenged Athletes Foundation with a simple request for a bike.
Competing in marathons and gaining fame for his rise from utter poverty, Emmanuel is seen as a messenger of hope: He even moves his country’s royalty to press for greater social concern and support for the disabled.
Possibly goaded out of sheer guilt, father Dickson finally surfaces and attends a celebration after Emmanuel’s first triathlon. In the curious way that athletic fame flows in today’s world, Emmanuel also is seen meeting both Robin Williams and Kofi Annan.