African countries have a long history of protests and demonstrations against forces of oppression, and this has been represented significantly in cinema.
Around the world, Nigerians in the diaspora have picked up the mantle of protesting peacefully against police brutality and violence. These gatherings are a direct extension of the nationwide protests that were brought to a tragic halt in Lagos after soldiers of the Nigerian army fired guns at peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate venue.
African countries have a long history of protests and demonstrations against forces of oppression and this has been represented significantly in cinema. This list, while not an exhaustive one, attempts to contextualize this rich cinematic history, tracing the complex and diverse ways that protest culture have been reflected in African film. From influential classics that are now considered required viewing to fascinating portraits of individual resistance, these films are proof that the struggle continues, regardless.
Amandla!: A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (2002) [South Africa/USA]
If there was ever an example of music assuming a central role in any activism it was in the drawn out and bloody South African struggle against Apartheid. With this soul-stirring and record setting film, Lee Hirsch attempts to break down the musical contributions to the resistance using a mixture of interviews, musical performances and historical film footage. Legends Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela are some of the voices who sound-tracked the era and their participation in this project lends it considerable gravitas.
The Art of Fallism (2019) [South Africa/Norway]
Directed by the duo of Gunnbjørg Gunnarsdóttir and Aslaug Aarsæther, The Art of Fallism is an instructive peep into how lack of intersectionality can sabotage even the most well-meaning of protest movements. A massive student protest at the university of Cape Town evolves into a national debate for free education and the end to all forms of repression. The Art of Fallism documents these struggles but more importantly, highlights how women and trans activists fought within these groups to ensure that the movement was inclusive and championed a diversity of voices.
The Battle of Algiers (1966) [Algeria/Italy]
Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival, Gillo Pontecorvo‘s The Battle of Algiers has endured to become one of the most influential films in history. With this seminal piece of neorealism, Pontecorvo, re-creates a pivotal year in the tumultuous Algerian struggle for independence from the French in the 1950s. This struggle would snowball into independence campaigns for other African countries from Angola to Nigeria. Filmed live on location in actual historic locations, The Battle of Algiers has been required viewing for unlikely parties such as the Black Panthers and the United States military.
Burkinabè Rising: The Art of Resistance in Burkina Faso (2018) [Burkina Faso/USA/Bulgaria]
Burkinabè Rising upholds creative nonviolent resistance as a legitimate tool for engagement as gleaned from the Burkina Faso experience. Korean-Brazilian director, Iara Lee interviews artists and creatives carrying on the revolutionary spirit of Thomas Sankara through their various disciplines. Through music, film, agriculture, architecture, and visual art, Burkina Faso’s vibrant community of artists depict an inspiring example of how art can in its own way, propel resistance and keep hope alive.
Downstream to Kinshasa (2020) [DRC/France/Belgium]
For six days in the year 2000, the Ugandan and Rwandan armies came head to head in the Congolese town of Kisangani. This brutal tragedy known as the six-day war, was part of a broader extended conflict over mineral deposits. It claimed the lives of over a thousand people while maiming over three thousand more. Dieudo Hamadi’s official Cannes festival selection draws attention to some of the survivors of this war as they go about dealing with the scars. Hamadi films a disparate yet organized group of survivors as they make the perilous journey by boat to the capital in Kinshasa to fight for the compensation that has been owed them for years.
I Am Bisha (2018) [Kenya/USA]
In this rather inventive short directed by Roopa Gogineni, Ganja, a 26-year-old pacifist son of a rebel commander, travels across the Nuba Mountains of Sudan with a puppet of the dictatorial president Omar al-Bashir. In his well-received performances, some of which include the participation of villagers, Ganja satirizes the power grabbing dictator. Ganja’s puppetry, slight as it seems, provides much needed hope and joy to the villages that have been ravaged by war. Webcasts of the performances- seen by over 1 million Sudanese- prove that grassroots media has a powerful role to play in keeping the spirit of the resistance alive.
Revolution from Afar (2020) [Sudan/USA]
In 2019, street protests and sustained civil disobedience led to the removal of the thirty-years in power dictator Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese-American poets and musicians in the diaspora, looking to contribute in some way, gathered in major American cities to perform their art in support of the revolution. Revolution from Afar contends with the helplessness and impotence that persons who are away from home tend to grapple with during momentous times. Director Bentley Brown also introduces difficult conversations about identity, belonging, and nationhood.
Softie (2020) [Kenya]
Sam Soko‘s Softie is a profile of resistance that centers award winning Kenyan photojournalist turned activist turned politician, Boniface Mwangi as he battles to make his country better. Fast paced, frenetic, yet soft at its core, Softie details with clear eyed compassion how the individual can as yet make a difference even when swimming against the tide. Through Mwangi’s several struggles and an attempted run for legislative political office, Soko shrewdly captures the oft dangerous reality of on-the-ground activism and community mobilization.
The Square (2013) [Egypt/USA]
Winner of three Emmys and nominated for an Oscar, The Square, as expertly rendered by Jehane Noujaim depicts the Egyptian political situation starting with the revolution of 2011 at Tahrir Square. Thorough and detailed, with a rough spontaneous energy that lends itself to the subject matter, The Square is the kind of cinema that happens when a committed filmmaker gets to record history as it happens. Noujaim documents the turbulent course of events through the experiences of several Egyptian activists, capturing the courage and the sacrifice that changed the country forever.
This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019) [Lesotho/South Africa/Italy]
This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is a powerful meditation on life, death and the power of the human spirit. The film, helmed poetically by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese tells the story of Mantoa—the late Mary Twala Mhlongo turning in a powerful performance—an 80-year-old widow in the Lesotho highlands fighting to rest peacefully with her ancestors after losing her only son. The film’s final sequence is an unforgettable visual depiction of resistance and the radicalization of a new generation of fighters.