Inspiring boy's life story on Netflix

Saturday March 9 2019

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” poster. The film is based on the true story of a boy who uses his knowledge to help his farming village battle the harsh climate challenges in Malawi. PHOTO | NETFLIX 

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I bet William Kamkwamba never imagined that his autobiographical novel, The Boy Who harnessed The Wind, would one day get global exposure the way it did last weekend.

On March 1, Netflix, the premier movie streaming service, released an original production of the film with the same title, based on Kamkwamba's book.

The script was adopted and written for screen by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Twelve Years a Slave). This was his debut directorial role in which he also starred as Trywell Kamkwamba, William's father.

Starring Kenyan actor Maxwell Simba as William, the film is set in Malawi in 2002.

The country is suffering the drought of the decade and peasant farmers are struggling to stay alive.

It is a story of total despair that affects millions of African villagers removed from the centres of power, and one that ends on a crescent of hope that if it was not based on a true story, would have been a cliché.


The Kamkwamba family relies on rain-fed farming for survival. But the effects of environmental destruction and climate change push his family to near destitution when the annual maize crop fails.

His son William, expelled from school after defying orders to stay home until all his fees have been paid, explores his love for mechanical tinkering and fixes radios for other people. He ends up building a windmill that pumps water for irrigation and saves the village from starvation.

What Kamkwamba's story exposes is that formal education is about application of school-based knowledge to solve everyday life problems, and not about good grades to attract employment. William saves his family and village even after expulsion from school.

The other subtext of the movie is the relationship between seemingly unempowered citizens and politicians and multinationals that force them to grow cash crops for export on the cheap.

The villagers are so desperate, against the pleadings of their chief, they give in to a tobacco company for upfront payment to sustain their families.

Meanwhile they cut down the only forest that acts as a buffer between them and the deadly floods, to use the wood to cure the tobacco they grow for the company.

The president then goes to the village for a political rally; when the chief warns the villagers against buying into his propaganda, the president’s goons beat him to death.

I found it such a shocking scene, as the old man cured up in a foetal position crying silently as the goons kicked him.

The funeral procession is emotional too, complete with traditional masked dancers dancing to a dirge. However, the scene seems more of a West African funeral rite than Southern African.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind could be a story about any village in Africa. With these kind of productions, Netflix is sure to strike a cord with its growing African viewership, while showing the rest of the world the positive that comes out of the continent contrary to media clips.

The film’s language is Chichewa, with English subtitles, and was shot on location in Malawi.

The cinematography is powerful as it captures the dusty winds as they blow over the dry land, and haunting sunsets against a bare dry hillside.

Besides Ejiofor, the other actors to look out for are Josef Maxell (Geoffrey Butler from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) who plays the village chief; Aissa Maiga who plays William's mother; Lemogang Tsitpa (a promising South African soap actor) who plays an amorous school teacher; Noma Dumezweni (an eSwatini-born British actress) who plays Willam's school librarian who gives him books on energy mechanics; and a host of Kenyan actors.