Tanzania’s film Vuta N’Kuvute (Tug Of War ) has been shortlisted in the “Best International Film” category for the 95th Oscar Awards, ending a two-decade wait for the country’s participation in the awards.
Released in Swahili and with a predominantly African cast, Vuta N’Kuvute tells the story of a young Indian-Zanzibari woman whose romance blossoms on the back of a political revolt in the last days of British imperial rule.
The film weaves through 1950s coastal culture across the divides of class and racial segregation that were imposed by the colonial regime.
Denge, a frustrated and rebellious Zanzibari young man who is part of the freedom struggle against British rule meets Yasmin, a recent runaway Indian-Zanzibari bride whose equal rebelliousness drives her to seek her own independence.
Their romantic but forlorn relationship is coupled with the daily struggles of finding their place in the resistance movements for independence.
After running away from her newly wedded, Yasmin faces rejection from her own family at home. She seeks refuge at a friend’s house in the Swahili quarters of segregated Zanzibar, immersing herself in an oppressed yet effervescent culture that she had always been secluded from.
Her initial self-indulgence is brought to question by the selfless woes of the people around her. Her own awareness is contextualized by a larger struggle for the self-reliance of an entire people.
Denge and Yasmin meet in a romantic setting lit by lanterns throwing shadows across rusty windows and washed-down walls. We find Denge more engaged in youth decadency rather than in revolutionary struggle. Although his conviction for the fight for Zanzibar’s autonomy is clear, his youthful frivolity betrays his ideological calling.
He is a portrait of a frustrated young man on the verge of giving up but his fighting spirit is reignited through his passion for Yasmin. Yasmin, naïve to the attention and freedom of young men her age, finds herself part of a struggle that leads to her own self-awareness.
Vuta N’Kuvute is a story of a people, the self and the other. It ties together struggles at all levels of oppression in a colonial society into a history of one people, a free-er people.
Tug Of War is produced by Steven Markovitz for South Africa’s Big World Cinema and Amil Shivji for Tanzania’s Kijiweni Productions.
“The future of Tanzanian cinema is finally in our hands. A wave of Swahili filmmakers grows with pride, intellect and audacity every day. Vuta N’Kuvute is living proof that tukiamua, tunaweza. Hakuna njia rahisi, lazima utapambana, tena utapambana sana, visa na mikasa hayaishi.” posted Amil Shivji, the film’s co-producer, on Instagram.