Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi Seek to Educate Audiences With Premiere of 'The Pirates of Somalia'

Barkhad Abdi and Evan Peters - The Pirates of Somalia Premiere - Getty - H 2017
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The film, which held its L.A. premiere on Wednesday night, follows a young Canadian journalist who joins Somali pirates for a story.

The stars of The Pirates of Somalia, including Evan Peters, Melanie Griffith and Barkhad Abdi, gathered Wednesday night at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre for the film's premiere. 

The drama is based on the real-life story of Canadian rookie journalist Jay Bahadur, who moved to Somalia in 2008 to join the local pirates and write stories about the men's lives. Bahadur penned a book on his journey, also titled The Pirates of Somalia, which was released in 2011. 

Peters, known for his shape-shifting roles on TV's American Horror Story, portrays Bahadur and faced many of the same challenges as the journalist described when adapting to working in Africa.  

"[Director] Bryan [Buckley] really sold me on the idea of getting out there and learning about a new culture and going to Africa. It wasn’t South Africa, but it was still a huge step outside of my comfort zone and my box of America, so that was a huge draw to me, to learn and to go on an adventure similar to Jay," the actor told The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere. "It was kind of a fish-out-of-water movie, and it was also me feeling like a fish out of water as well."

Much of the cast is comprised of real-life Somalian refugees, which Peters said gives the film a real authenticity and aims to break down previous Hollywood misconceptions about the Somali people. 

Of the educational message of the movie, the actor told THR, "You think you’re walking into one thing but you really learn what Jay learned, which is that pirates, they don’t want to be pirates, it’s because of their circumstances in their country that they’re forced into doing this. It’s about helping Somalia get a strong government so they can get a strong education and these young men can get a different outlet other than piracy. It’s about passion and empathy for the Somali culture."

Writer and Oscar-nominated director Buckley had a very personal reason for bringing this story to the big screen, after working with the UN in African refugee camps and learning the average time spent in the camp is 17 years. 

"I began my journey of figuring out how can I help them get out of these camps, and I fell in love with the Somali people along the way," he said. "[Bahadur] shares the same vision as far as trying to expose the culture as I did, so I was like, 'I've got to buy that book, I’ve got to tell his story' — it took four years to get it to the screen."

The director also shared a political message from his film, noting that exposing Somalian culture is more important now than ever on the eve of President Donald Trump's travel ban. 

"A movie is a journey. It's not over — the next step is getting it out there and getting people to watch this and understand a culture that we just banned from the United States," Buckley told THR. "My lead actors next year would not be allowed to be here, to be standing on this red carpet."

Abdi, who received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for 2014's Captain Phillips, is one of the Somali actors who may be affected if the ban is put in place.

Adbi said that playing the role of a Somali pirate once again "is somewhat related to the Captain Phillips story." He added, though, that "this is a wider look at the situation."

The Pirates of Somalia, which also stars Al Pacino, hits theaters Friday.