Aisha Osagie (Letitia Wright) is held in direct provision as she tries to navigate the bureaucracy surrounding asylum seekers. Having fled Nigeria after her father was murdered and her mother in hiding, Aisha is isolated and treated like a prisoner in the system. Security guard Conor (Josh O'Connor), who was once a prisoner and an addict, befriends Aisha. However, Aisha is soon moved to another centre in rural Ireland and becomes even more isolated...
Much like 'Michael Inside', Frank Berry's 'Aisha' focuses on humanity and human connection inside places that are fundamentally inhuman. There is still the banality of evil, the implacable leadership, the spider's web of bureaucracy, all of it, and on top of that, Aisha has to deal with both racism and sexism. In one small scene, she's casually propositioned for sex work by a group of local lads while waiting at a bus stop. In another, she's refused the use of a microwave to heat up a halal meal she bought for herself because the direct provision centre doesn't provide halal food.
Letitia Wright's character displays an uncanny ability to keep it all inside, facing any amount of daily indignations and injustices with a seemingly endless reserve of dignity and poise. More than that, she has to face all this and still try to work her way through the complex asylum seeker system. In more than a few scenes, her solicitor tells her that she has to speak as openly and broadly about her horrific experiences in Nigeria because, well, they need a compelling case. This is one of the most subtle aspects of 'Aisha' - that the character clearly has been through unspeakable trauma, but is unable to put it into words. 'Aisha' doesn't fall into the trap of showing these horrors, because it's written clearly on her face.
Josh O'Connor's character feels like a continuation of the prisoner-parolee dynamic explored in 'Michael Inside'. Even though he's been out of prison for a number of years and clean from drugs for a similar length of time, Conor still walks and talks with an uneasy edge, and finds a true connection with Aisha. They're both prisoners, both have undergone trauma, and both trying to find a way out from under it.
As previously mentioned, Frank Berry's work on 'Michael Inside' informs 'Aisha' and the two are effectively companion pieces. There's a biting sense of reality to it all. The people surrounding Aisha, her co-workers at the salon, its patrons, are all curious and caring about her situation, while the organs of the state and the people who manage and run her direct provision are impassive and uncaring at a professional level. Direct provision is a cruel system because it forces those inside it to relive their experiences in order to escape it. They have to justify their existence constantly when they simply want to work and build a life the same as any of us do. Berry captures this with exactitude, but never with flashy payoffs or soaring emotional arcs. It's far too clever and too real for that.
'Aisha' shows how people in this system are caught, again and again, unable to form friendships or relationships, unable to progress in their lives, and incapable of setting down roots when the terror of being deported always hangs over them. It's not surprising, then, that 'Aisha' ends on an uneven note, because the truth is that there are no easy answers for anyone in direct provision, and until a better and more human system is developed, people will continue to suffer it.