New filmmakers are emerging and more African films are being welcomed by the biggest film festivals around the world. Here are the standout African movies of 2022 so far.
King of Thieves (Nigeria)
This hugely entertaining romp, written and shot in the Yoruba language enjoyed massive crossover success at the Nigerian box office where it became the highest grossing film of the year so far. Directed by the duo of Adebayo Tijani and Tope Adebayo, the ambitious King of Thieves brings to life ancient Yoruba mythology with the story of a once prosperous kingdom caught in the grip of powerful bandit. Employing neat CGI tricks, a parade of hardworking actors and sheer narrative gusto, King of Thieves reaches beyond its obvious limitations.
No Simple Way Home (Kenya/South Africa/South Sudan)
For Akuol de Mabior’s debut feature length film, she turns inwards to her family’s legacy and grapples with difficult questions. What is the meaning of home? And what duty does she owe her people as a child of renowned politicians and freedom fighters? Born and raised in exile, de Mabior follows her mother and sister in South Sudan as they play their parts in nation building.
Silverton Siege (South Africa)
It is Silverton, Pretoria in 1980. And three armed activists of the ANC’s uMkhonto we Sizwe faction take a bank hostage. It ends in tears. Forty-two years later, these freedom fighters were immortalized in this splashy Netflix caper directed by Mandla Dube. Starring Thabo Rametsi as the leader of the group, Silverton SiegeSiege benefits from Dube’s eye for periodic detail and his affinity for setting up brisk action scenes. The film works best and delivers the thrills when it doubles down on the action set pieces.
Tug of War (Vuta N’Kuvute) (Tanzania/South Africa/Qatar/Germany)
The first Tanzanian film to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is an adaptation of a hugely popular Swahili novel by author Shafi Adam Shafi. Co-written and directed by Amil Shivji (T-Junction), Tug of War is a visually appealing saga about a pair of star-crossed lovers caught up in the throes of the British occupation of Zanzibar. A young revolutionary fighting for self-actualization of his homeland falls for a rebellious Indian-Zanzibari woman fleeing an arranged marriage. Can they make it work?
Father’s Day (Rwanda)
A struggling masseuse is devastated by the accidental death of her son. A caring daughter contemplates donating an organ to save her ailing father. A small-time criminal drags his young son into his dangerous world. With the poignant Father’s Day, Kivu Ruhorahoza weaves three separate stories set in and around the city of Kigali. Presented with precision and emotional intensity, Father’s Day is a bracing, humane interrogation of the effects of traditional patriarchal systems.
For Maria (Ẹ̀bùn Pàtàkì) (Nigeria)
In Damilola Orimogunje’s stark domestic drama, a first-time mother (a volcanic Meg Otanwa) cannot bring herself to bond with her newborn after suffering a difficult delivery. The filmmaker and his strong cast of actors are able to create a realist piece of cinema that powers through limited resources and shines with intent. With mood, colors, shadows and silences, For Maria (Ẹ̀bùn Pàtàkì) paints a convincing and heartbreaking picture of postpartum depression.
Cesária Évora (Cape Verde/Portugal)
The late Cabo Verdian diva, whose larger-than-life voice took the pain and soul of her traditional morna music culture and made it a Grammy winning global phenomenon, gets the big screen treatment in this carefully curated study. Using archival footage and interviews with some of the people who were closest to the singer, Portuguese filmmaker Ana Sofia Fonseca puts together a solid portrait of the legend. There are some gaps in Évora’s life that successive projects will hopefully attempt to fill, but Fonseca makes the most of the material available. The film pays beautiful tribute to Évora’s essence and legacy as well the complicated life she lived behind the stage and the pain behind the songs.
Nikyatu Jusu’s ravishing take on popular West African mythology had the honour of becoming the first horror film to win Sundance’s grand jury prize this year. Anna Diop has a star-making turn as Aisha, a young single mother who immigrates to the US from Senegal in search of a better life. Undocumented and working as a nanny for a privileged New York couple to save money to bring her son over to the States, Aisha begins to have disturbing visions that include mythical figures like Anansi the Spider and Mami Wata. Inspired loosely by the work of Ousmane Sembène, Jusu crafts Nanny as some kind of corrective to the tragedy of the heroine in Sembène’s revered classic, Black Girl (La Noire de…).
Lingui, the Sacred Bonds (Chad/France/Belgium/Germany)
The iconic Mahamat-Saleh Haroun returns to his native Chad with this timely and fiercely feminist socio-realist drama that tackles the beast that is abortion rights in a conservative society. Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) is an independent woman who finds herself in a race against the forces of patriarchy when her fifteen-year-old daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) gets pregnant. Amina supports her daughter as they try to get an abortion, a procedure that is both frowned upon by Islam and illegal in Chad.
Neptune Frost (Rwanda/USA)
Neptune (Cheryl Isheja), an intersex hacker is guided by magnetic pull to Digitaria, an outcast enclave in the hills of Burundi peopled by rebel hackers. There, they are joined by Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse), a miner mourning the loss of a loved one. As these outcasts journey on, they sing, dance, trade ideas and fend off interference from operatives of the state, all the while debating ideas and swapping concerns on what it means to exist on the fringes. Neptune Frost is a radical new vision conceived and co-directed by the duo of Rwandan filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams.