Americans: If You Want To Watch A Movie About Africa, Watch “Binti.”

From what I’ve seen, too many “African” films (about Africa, but with heavy foreign involvement in the production team) seem to rhyme. As shown in these movies, African people have Difficult Lives because of an African Problem (usually something like Poverty, AIDS, Female Genital Mutilation, Armed Conflict, or Forced Marriage). The movie is about overcoming their specific African Problem, and then they have a Good Life. It is all too simple, and for American audiences — who seem to be easily convinced that African problems are easily solvable — continues a dangerous narrative. Audiences learn that African Problems are different from Our Problems, that African problems can be solved with such readily available silver bullets, if only anyone bothered to Do Something.

Furthermore, the characters are never developed — they don’t exist except to showcase these “African Problems.” Audiences don’t really get to know the characters, and for American audiences accustomed to a lifelong diet of these “African” movies, the collective perception becomes that Africa is a continent of forgettable individuals and Big Needs.

Can I suggest an alternative? Check out “Binti” — Netflix’s first Tanzanian film, created by a completely female team.

“Binti” (2021, directed by Seko Shamte) is a Tanzanian film about four women in Dar es Salaam and the struggles they face — a woman reconciling the pain of family history and hopes for independence with the burden of debt, a woman struggling to imagine herself beyond the reach of her abusive boyfriend, a woman forced by infertility to reimagine her vision of her own family, and a woman whose marriage and sense of self are challenged by the trials of raising a child with special needs.

Each situation is dealt with, although not quite in the ways the women had dreamed of. It is painful and frustrating to watch. There are no soothing resolutions, no happy endings, just another step forward. These are not inspirational stories; these are honest portrayals of the pain and frustration of being a woman, and it hits hard.

So, for my Americans trying to find some sort of education about Africa through film, don’t bother with “Blackhawk Down” or “Blood Diamond.” Search for “Binti” on Netflix, and welcome to the frustrating concept that African problems can look very similar to American problems, and there’s no silver bullet to solve the pain of being a woman.

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