If the West’s is the glory, ours must be the shame

Wednesday February 20 2019

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind movie

Author William Kamkwamba, director and screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor, actress Aissa Maiga and actor Maxwell Simba pose for photographers during a photocall for the film "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" at the 69th Berlinale film festival on February 12, 2019 in Berlin. PHOTO | AFP 

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With a New Year, the new movies and TV series are rolling in.

Those who are into these things have probably watched the series Black Earth Rising on Netflix.

It is the story of Kate Ashby (starring British actress Michaela Ewuraba Boakye-Collinson, known professionally as Michaela Coel) who works as a legal investigator at a London law firm. She was born in Rwanda and rescued as a child from the 1994 genocide.

Her adoptive mother takes on a case prosecuting a former Rwanda Patriotic Army war hero gone rogue and plundering in neighbouring DR Congo.

Her mother is assassinated, and Kate wades into the complex world of International Criminal Court politics, and the murky geopolitics of the genocide.

She heads to Rwanda and the DRC to investigate, and it turns out nothing is what it seems. That is all one can say without spoiling it.

The temptation to fast forward at many points was high, but it was still a good story with dramatic turns that made up for the many plodding parts.

Needless to say, for fans of Leonard Cohen, one of the best parts has to be listening over and over again to his golden gruff tones in You Want It Darker. Cohen died in 2016. May his soul still rest in peace.

Then there is The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, also coming to Netflix on March 1. Set in 2001 Malawi, it’s the story of a schoolboy, William Kamkwamba, in a poor hungry village. He had read about windmills, and nursed dreams of building one to bring power and water to his village. And he did (in real life), in a juakali feat for the ages.

He became a big international story, and even gave a TedTalk.

British-Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor directs the movie, which is adapted from a book by William Kamkwamba and American author Bryan Mealer.

There is a common gripe about Black Earth Rising and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind; similar to what one hears about African films made by Hollywood and Western, or West-based directors. That they are not authentic enough, because the actors are not Malawians, Rwandans, South Africans, Ugandans, or whatever. That they do funny accents, and sometimes aren’t filmed in the countries where stories are set.

Though valid, with social media heating up, there are armies of Africans these days waiting to take on these transgressions with a vengeance, and to hurl accusation of “whitewashing,” “mzungu God complex,” “cultural appropriation” and other such missiles.

This digital warfare is unlikely to change anything. As our people say, the croaking of a frog cannot stop the cow drinking from the well. There is a growing market for African material, because it is a rich trove that has barely been harvested, fuelled by the fact the global cultural palate is changing in its favour.

No American studio is going to put up its money, with an eye to making returns on its investment, and then make a film full of Africans, however much soaked in our melanin the story is. For that, we’ll have to find our own money, get our own directors, and make films for our own screens.

Those expecting Hollywood to make an “authentic” African film for Africa are better off waiting for Jesus Christ to return.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]