I am into African cinema, it’s a fairly new thing in my life but I’m so glad I discovered it. It started off with a love for South African movies, I would go out and support, whether good or bad, I was intentionally trying to support the local industry. Then I broadened my horizons and looked at Nigerian movies (yes, there are other Nigerian movies besides Mr Ibu and Beyoncé and Rihanna part 5). The time I invested in Nigerian films then drew me across to the other side of the continent and I discovered the Kenyan film industry. I discovered that the Ghanaian and Nigerian movie scene is kind of inseparable, there is so much cross pollination that you can hardly identify which is which you just have to pay attention to the dialogue and wait for them to mention currency, if its Naira its Nollywood if its Cedis we are in Ghallywood (the name is silly I know, but I didn’t make it up). I have tried to pull some of my friends into my new found fascination, they don’t all always believe me that there is value in African movies, but I don’t really blame them because most have only seen the movies on Africa Magic with terrible sound effects, ghosts that are afraid of being knocked over by cars and people fighting with lightening. While I wouldn’t advocate for the removal of Africa Magic movies – I could explain myself in a different article – I really wish people would realise that there is a whole other world to movies made in Africa.
I have therefore decided to put down some recommendations, some of my personal favourite movies made on the continent. Now, I need to be clear that this is a list of movies that I like. I am in no way stating that these are the best movies ever made by Africans, I am certain that I have not watched them all and there are some brilliant ones that I have not yet seen, it’s just a starting point. It’s also important that we clarify what I mean by “African” movies, I’m not talking about Blood Diamond and Amistad or even Long Walk to Freedom, I mean movies made by Africans – written, produced, directed and starring Africans – and not just about Africans. So here goes my list, I will try to keep it at just 10 with varying genres, from romantic comedies to heart wrenching dramas.
- Neria (1993, Zimbabwe) – I watched this when I was much younger but it has always stuck in my mind. I think the song with the same title by Oliver Mtukudzi wouldn’t let me forget the movie. I knew the song before I saw the movie but after I saw the movie I couldn’t listen to the song without getting emotional even if I still don’t understand the words.
- Izulu lami (2008, South Africa) – I will tell anybody who will listen about this movie. It is in my top ten favourite movies of all time. I thought this movie was so clever for so many reasons the most fascinating of which is that it had an all-child cast, yes, there were about 3 adults in the whole move and the rest were children. The movie showcased the lives of children in South Africa, it is heart-wrenching in that there are many children who actually live the lives portrayed in the movie. The number of children who are orphaned because of parents dying from Aids, children living in the street, children being abused and neglected by the adults that are supposed to care for them. But among all this sadness and painful reality, you get to see the joy of being a child as well, the beauty of being naive and the resilience of a heart that bears no grudges. I like this move lots…
- Tango with me (2010, Nigeria) – this movies is just sooooooo dramatic. The phrase “It’s complicated” doesn’t begin to describe the plot in this movie. Its the story of a newly married couple faced with challenges not of their own doing from their wedding night…it’s just downhill from there. The reason I put this movie on is because I think it would help those of us that think lowly of Nollywood movies, it has great cinematography, and the acting is good (not Oscar worthy, but good), the movie only has one part to it (I promise, there is no sequel) and the story is really not predictable. I have put it down because I think it would go a long way in dispelling the stereotype of Nigerian movies being terrible productions.
- Contract (2013, Ghana) – I say this is a Ghanaian movie only because it was shot in Ghana but the cast is a bit of a mix. The 3 main characters are Ghanaian, South African and Nigerian. This was a cute romantic comedy, by any standard, it could have been a Hollywood script, and I appreciated the collaboration across the 3 different countries. I make mention that the script could have easily been a Hollywood script to show that we shouldn’t discard movies just because they are not made in the USA, if you watch enough movies that are not made in America, you will notice that there are plenty American scripts and storylines that have copied productions from other countries, but we think they are brilliant when the Americans do it. We love Americans, it’s not their fault that we accept everything they give us without question. The point is, this is a Rom-Com, next date night, get this movie and watch it with your Bae.
- Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon (2005, South Africa) – doesn’t the title alone draw you to watch it? Well that is how I ended up watching it, I was channel hopping and found this title and decided to try it out. It was a movie but I have a feeling that its intent was to be a documentary. It is a fictional story set up to get the real stories of foreigners living in South Africa. The two main characters, a South African man (who is an author) and a Somali woman meet in the park and talk about her life and why she left her country and the things she misses about home. The man then decides that he will write about her in his new book, when she doesn’t return to the park, he goes out looking for her but along the way he meets a myriad of other African’s living in South Africa and asks them about their stories. If nothing else, this movie is educational, only the main characters are actors, the rest of the people are real people we come across in the streets of Joburg.
- Brave (2014, Nigeria) – This is a 30 min Nigerian movie…see, am I succeeding in breaking the stereotypes of Nigerian movies? It really is half an hour long, it’s not the trailer to a longer movie. It has great cinematography, the acting is great, yes great and the storyline is meaningful. I’ve watched it repeatedly, probably because it’s so short. The premise of it all is that, life is short and delicate, its unpredictable and it takes courage to persevere when it’s less than perfect.
- A Northern Affair (2014, Ghana) – I’ve watched this one repeatedly as well. It’s a quiet movie, I don’t know how else to describe it, it’s not flashy, it’s not loud, it’s not showy. The story is probably not completely unique so if you’ve seen Enough with J-Lo or another movie with a battered woman leaving her husband you will be able to predict some of the plot in this movie but I think it has more substance than the other movies of women running away from abusive husbands. Before I completely over-sell this movie I’m going to stop here, it’s cool, watch it if you can.
- White Wedding (2009, South Africa) – this is a feel good story which most black South Africans were able to identify with. It was cool to see a movie come out of SA without it being about Aids or Apartheid…which are important stories to tell but it’s not all we are. I can’t say too much about this movie because there is nothing really special about it except that it’s a fun movie and a good production and most South African’s have seen it. For the rest of you, here is another date night recommendation.
- Material (2012, South Africa) I seem to be showing South Africa some extra love in this list but its only because I have more exposure to local films than those from abroad, its exposure guys, I’m not pushing an agenda. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it made me laugh hard, it taught me things about Muslim culture that I didn’t know and it revealed some prejudice and ignorance in my heart which is always a good thing. If for no other reason but a good laugh, this movie is worth seeing.
- Man on Ground (2011, Nigeria/South Africa) – Nigerians and South Africans need to work together more often, really, we make a good pair, we could be a power couple if we got over ourselves a little. This was a good movie and I don’t care who says what. The Nigerian-South African collaboration has brought some other good productions to us, has anyone seen God is an African or did you catch Jacobs Cross? Anyway, about the movie…I really don’t know where to start, it’s an intricate love story happening in the midst of political issues, international relations in Africa, family/traditional factors and Xenophobia in South Africa…it sounds like too much right, but it’s not. It’s done well, just watch it.
I know I’m supposed to stop now because this was supposed to be a short list but can I add just two bonus features?
- A small town called Descent (2010, South Africa) – Some of my favourite South African actors are in this movie, Fana Mokoena and Vusi Kunene. The story is brilliant I have to say and it’s so jam packed with emotion. Have you ever been sad and impressed all at the same time? Well, this is how I felt at the end of this movie, it’s a similar feeling to what you get from Adele’s 21 album, you are completely depressed while listening to it but you are also impressed by the fact that she could make you feel all those emotions with her artistry and then you listen again. It’s incredibly sad but so well done and believable that you can’t help but give props were props are due.
- The First Grader (2012, Kenya) – This would have been in the primary list but it didn’t make the cut purely because the director and the lead actress are not African…sorry, I know its discrimination but it didn’t fit the criteria. I enjoyed this movie though, it may have been the children and old people thing that got me but it was a good story all round and creatively taught me a little more about Kenyan history in a way that I could see how people were affected beyond what the history books taught me.
The point of all of this is to get people to do a little digging into African productions, I’m not just talking about people who live on the continent but for everyone else. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a talk once on the danger of a single story, she talks about the one sided depiction of any life more especially the story of Africa, you know those CNN images of hungry children with flies on them, the stories of war and poverty being the only thing that the world gets to see about the continent, those stories and images need to countered or balanced with other stories and narratives. The need for websites like “Africa is not a Country” and the fact that some South Africans still say “I’m going to Africa” when they are going anywhere else on the continent is an indication that we really need more exposure to the continent, and for those of us that cannot travel, we can hear and see the stories of others in movies told by Africans, that we would see that slavery and deadly diseases are not all that we have. We also have love lives so we make romantic comedies, we have diverse cultures so we write stories about inter-cultural interactions, we smile, we laugh, we cry, we mourn, we fight, we sing, we get married, we work…we (insert verb). Basically we are people too. We need to stop complaining about how the accents in Blood Diamond are all off, or how Long Walk to Freedom could have easily had an all-South African cast when we know that we don’t even patronise local productions.
Not all African productions are high quality productions, but these industries need to grow the same way that the American and British industries grew. The arts play a part in every revolution, this is the revolution to change the image of Africa, join in.
Are there any African movies you would like us to know about? Please do share, I’m committed to the cause.
Featured image originally sourced from here. Modifications have been made. Image is licensed under the Creative Commons licence.
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