It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that James’ Journey to Jerusalem is the tale of a happy slave. Gangly, with a crown of braids and a smile so pretty it makes him look like a 15-year-old girl, James (Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe), a young African, arrives in Tel Aviv on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Jailed by immigration authorities, he is bailed out by Shimi (Salim Daw), a shady Jewish businessman who seizes James’ passport and coerces him into his stable of mostly African workers, a lowly bunch who sleep on bare cots and aren’t even allowed to watch TV without paying a surcharge.
You’d think that the film would ask you to be appalled at this scenario of forced servitude — but no, it’s treated as harmless and cute, like an Israeli ”Chico and the Man.” The director, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, is never happier than when he can execute a montage of James cleaning and hauling boxes, all set to jaunty African music. But then James, all of a sudden, adopts the penny-pinching, exploitative tactics of his employers. I guess this makes the film a bargain: It offers two atrocious ethnic stereotypes for the price of one.