I am an Afro/African-Caribbean who loves fantasy, or to be more precise High-fantasy, Heroic-fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, as well as Sword & Soul. Even the movies that I hold dear are fantasy adventures with swords, wizards, and monsters. My dad raised me to do the right thing and don’t be afraid to be a hero, a bad word in the dog-eat-dog reality of my surroundings. But the obvious problem I encountered was the lack of Black people in them. Now there are other blogs that explain this need with more eloquence than myself. And yes, no matter how much I enjoy my “independence”, I’d rather not feel like an anomaly or something to be studied or poked at in these imagined worlds. Truth be told, in the real world (America) my skin, nose, and hair have put me such a position as outsider, regardless of my economic position or philosophical belief. And that feeling, for me anyway, translates into many of the worlds I enjoy reading and watching. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about those few movies I found that I have added to my list of fantasy movies that have made an impact on my life. Those fantasy movies that piqued my curiosity enough want to study and learn about other kinds of worlds and the narratives out there in the “Black Continent”.
1. Guimba the Tyrant (in Bamana with some Fula) is the first on my list. It was filmed in 1995 by Malian director Cheick Oumar Sissoko. Some have labeled it as a comedy drama from Mali, but its use of magic by the tyrannical king and Siriman, from the Hunter’s Society, deserves the classification of fantasy – it’s a battle of wizards. As the story is told by a djeli in the opening, Guimba and his son, Janguine (who is by the way a midget), rule over a fictional Malian village with a cruelty, intimidation, and occult powers (magic). His bodyguards are whipped when they fail to properly entertain him and his son is known to satisfy his lust on who so ever catches his eye. The heroine of the story, Kani of the Diarre clan is betrothed to Janguine, but he is interested in her mother Meya. So what does Guimba propose, that he marries Kani and Meya divorce her husband, Mambi, to marry his son. Obviously this causes a rebellion and climaxes to a battle between Guimba and Siriman, a member of the Hunter’s Society, which Guimba is a member of.
I was dazzled by the elaborate costume and set design. They seemed to really go out of their way to create an African village that was not made up of huts and poverty. These were mudbrick buildings and structures of Malian design. The beauty complimented the world, adding natural surroundings. And the thing that dazzled me was the chase scene. Guimba chases Kani, disguised as a nobleman, on horseback, and her suitors, from other kingdoms, in flowing boubous and tasselled steeds in turn chase him. To escape, Guimba employs magic and literally in a flash blanks out the sun, allowing him to escape back behind the walls of his domain. It’s at this point the magic becomes more prevalent. Even the rifles they use aren’t immune to the powers of Siriman. Though the special effects aren’t as spectacular as the chase scene, more like the Saruman vs. Gandalf in the LOTR, it was still a pleasure to watch.
For a little more explanation on the story: Brandon’s Movie memory
I appreciated it more after watching Sia, the Dream of the Python, where the mythical tale of the Serpent of Wagadu is deconstructed and reconstructed at the expense of its mythical element for the sake of a political/ social allegory. Guimba the Tyrant does not do this to make its point about tyranny and the power used to maintain it.
2. Masai: the Rain Warriors (in Maa) was released in 2004 by French director Pascal Plisson and filmed in Kenya. The story is pretty simple. A drought has befallen the Maasai lands. A group of young warriors must set out to kill the lion Vitchua and bring back the rains.
The young warriors are all Maasai boys with no acting experience, which does nothing to detract from its enjoyment. The quest to save their village, the son of the chief out to prove his worth, and the young healer who goes for the sake of friendship, makes for a great story already, but the appearance of the lion (a huge magical beast with the help of special effects) and the power his death has to bring back the rains is all that is needed. The lion is that element of magic that turned this from a coming-of-age quest to a fantasy quest.
Some people I’ve met have found fault with this, mainly because of the use of the Maasai culture, in which we experience the story through. Not as subjects, but as narrators and players in their own story. I can’t help but wonder how hard it is for some to breakout of seeing African cultures only through the lens of National Geographic/Anthropological Society mindset.
3. Yeelen, (in Bamana and Fula) released in 1987 by Malian director Souleymane Cissé is based of a Bamana legend is a heroic quest tale. The hero Nianankoro is on a quest to find his uncle, Djigui, whom he needs to aid him in an upcoming battle with his father, Somo. Oh, and by the way they all posses magical powers. If they weren’t Africans they’d be called wizards or sorcerers
There are several scenes, which show the power these men posses. When the father summons evil Mari to aid him in finding his son, the sacrifice, a chicken strung upside down from a Kolonkalanni, and burnt tree stump he uses explodes into flame and then magically extinguishes, so that he can use the “tracking pylon” to track Nianankoro. Scenes of his two servants struggling with “tracking pylon” are priceless. And in another scene, Nianankoro stuns two attacking Fula warriors, freezing them in mid attack to show the king his powers. This conflict eventually ends with the final confrontation between father and son, which is one that will leave you going WTF. But then, that’s why you got to pay attention.
Now I’ll be the first to say, the production value is limited and the narration is sometimes difficult to follow. I had the most trouble following this movie. I’m still confused by the Fulani woman, his son, and the egg. But striped down to just story, it’s a worthy watch.
You can get some more info here: World Sci-Fi Cinema
The budget for these films were in no way equal to Hollywood standards, but the laws of magic in cinema are all about the ingenuity in its conjuring. At least that’s one of the things I was able to get out of it.
These 3 films are a great study in the development of African fantasy films. There are complexities and nuances within the narrative forms that need some understanding, but a story is a story and it’s not too hard to grasp. Once I was able to get over the shifts in time and space coupled with long lags between events or action, I was able to watch and enjoy. I also realized, through some research, that the difference in narratives structures (deconstruction the linear narratives) can put some people off from watching these films. But the experience gained in watching films were English is not the primary cultural influence is an added bonus in watching these films. Like the first time I saw a Wuxia (Kung-Fu) movie or an Indian Production of the Mahabharata.
Granted its been some time since I’ve seen any movies from the continent. So if there are any I should check, feel free to make suggestions.
Categories: Misc. Stuff