Some of the leading lights and top action in African film in 2018

Banned at home but feted at Cannes, getting it right behind the scenes, and using animation to augment African storytelling – here are some of the highlights of the African film industry in 2018.


One of 2018’s most critically-acclaimed African film was ‘Rafiki’.

Directed by Kenyan filmmaker Waniru Kahiu, it explores the love story between two women and was adapted from an award-winning short story – ‘Jambula Tree’ – by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko.

But its producers ran into controversy after the Kenyan government banned at home.

“We restricted Wanuri’s film – ‘Rafiki’ – because it endorses homosexuality, which goes against the dominant values of the Kenyan people. Films must reflect the dominant values of the people. Films must promote morality in society,” explained Ezekiel Mutua, who heads the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB).

Rafiki’ became the first Kenyan movie to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival, but to be eligible as Kenya’s entry under the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2019 Academy Awards, it had to have been released in Kenya.

“We watch international content, some of that content has things that we find taboo here. But we still are able to watch it, we are still able to say, we liked it or we didn’t like it, we have an opinion or we dont have an opinion and that’s all we are asking for our film, is that not everybody… you dont have to watch it. We were asking for an 18 rating so that adults can come watch the film, have a conversation about what was happening in the film and take it from there, that is what we had hoped. Unfortunately the film was banned,” Wanuri Kahiu told Reuters.

Kahiu filed – and won – a lawsuit to lift the ban.

“Homosexuality is an issue that is a reality in the society and the question which then arises is whether a film should be restricted clearly because it depicts gay theme? My answer to the above question is in the negative because, one of the reasons for artistic creativity is to stir society’s conscience, even on very vexing topics such as homosexuality,” Justice Wilfrida Okwany said in the landmark ruling.

Enoh Koree, is looking to make a different kind of mark in Africa’s film industry.

The self-taught special effects makeup artist has carved out a niche for herself in her home country of Cameroon, where she is popular with directors for her inventiveness and attention to detail.

Cameroon has long existed in the shadows of Nollywood – neighbouring Nigeria’s multi million-dollar sector, which is ranked second largest in the world after Bollywood by quantity of films produced. But Cameroon, analysts say, is now experiencing a revival thanks to digital screening options and cheaper production technology.

“There are a lot of challenges. First, people don’t get to do movies that require special effects. You have to start forcing them by doing it on yourself and putting like the video I posted online that made waves and secondly, you don’t get the products anywhere in Cameroon,” she said.

Filmmakers Aaron and Amanda Kopp also took their creative skills to another level in 2018.

The husband and wife team decided to make ‘Liyana’ – a documentary about the resilience of children in Swaziland – after meeting orphans there in 2003.

It took them several years to settle on the right mix of animation and other production elements that allowed them to weaving the story back and forth from fiction to nonfiction.

“There have been a lot of films in Africa made by people who look like us. And they, while not always inaccurate, I think they’ve been incomplete certainly and they tend to focus on a specific kind of narratives in Africa and we just – having grown up there, we knew that that wasn’t the whole truth. And we – these kids just exemplify that complexity in a way that I think is pretty compelling, you know,” Aaron said.

Actress Thandie Newton, whose mother is Zimbabwean, and regularly performs philanthropy work in Africa, serves as executive producer of the movie.

“I know that from the work that I’ve done in Africa, the way to truly help is to give resources, but allow people on the ground to make their own decisions about how they want to tell their stories, have their stories be transported around the world. So, you know, my job was – the kind of nuts and bolts of it was to help create the last bit of financing which allowed the movie to be completed. And then it’s journey to every festival.”

But no film had the kind of journey and success that ‘Blank Panther’ had in Africa in 2018.

Film fans, actors and comic enthusiasts across the continent flocked to screenings of the Marvel superhero movie, which features a predominantly black cast, and is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda where the new king, T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), is challenged by rivals.

“The film makers were very specific about the references they use in relationship to Africa, so they are pulling from the best fashion, the best arts. I can see the references in the work and I really respect that. And then there is the African American empowerment story in there as well so it is amazing,” said filmmaker Bolaji Kekere-ekun, after one the many screenings held in Nigeria, home to Nollywood, the continent’s biggest film industry, known as Nollywood.

Directed by black director Ryan Coogler and featuring actors including Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whittaker, the film has received widespread critical acclaim after years of criticism about the under-representation of black people in Hollywood.

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