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Five African Documentaries You Should Be Watching Now

Here's a carefully selected list of five African documentaries to see.

The best documentaries are always packed full of insightful information and more often than not, worth your while. While they might be great, sometimes it's hard to choose them over the dozens of easily digestible, binge-worthy TV shows and movies available on-demand right now. Once in a while, though, it’s nice to have a change of pace, to watch something that sometimes serves as an eye-opener and provides useful enlightenment, and most times documentaries provide just that.

From deeply personal interrogations on family and identity to the ever-present struggle for dignity and basic rights, many documentary films present vivid snapshots of what it means to be African. They not only represent the finest of contemporary filmmaking on the continent, but they are also a reflection of the most pressing challenges and concerns facing people in Africa today.

Below are five African documentary films you should be watching now.

The Letter(2019)

The Letter is a documentary set in a Kenyan village but the incidents are instantly relatable to many communities across the continent. A young man, Karisa, travels from Mombasa to his ancestral home after his grandmother is accused of witchcraft. His conversations with family members soon reveal how the accusations are part of a plot often hatched by greedy relatives to displace senior citizens of their land.

Directors Maia Lekow and Christopher King, a husband and wife team, happened upon this rich piece of human drama while researching the oral history of coastal Kenya. The Letter’s investigations reveal how a toxic combination of superstitious beliefs and religious overzealousness is deployed to put certain groups of people at risk of displacement from their homes. Through a personal story of courage and family, The Letter also comments on Pentecostal evangelism, capitalism as well as the aftershocks of post-colonial trauma.

WHERE TO WATCH: Amazon Prime

Le Loup D’or de Balolé (2019)

In this expository film, director Chloe Aicha tells the story of about 2,500 men, women and children who are hidden away in a granite quarry in Ouagadougou the capital state of Burkina Faso. These people spend their days performing backbreaking work, splintering stones under horrible conditions.

By documenting this story, Aïcha does a service to humanity by taking the lid off these conditions with her camera. What she uncovers is a community that refuses to be passive victims as they organize to redress the exploitation that results from their dependency on the quarry’s middlemen who skim a large chunk of their pay.

Le Loup D’or de Balolé is an intricately plotted and visually appealing docu-film despite the less than the glamorous subject matter that it addresses. A lot of it comes down to Boro’s dignified gaze and her unsentimental, participatory approach to the material. She traces a line from the events in the quarry to the larger political uprising of 2014 that led to the fall of former president Blaise Compaoré.

WHERE TO WATCH: Amazon Prime

The Square(2013)

The Emmy-award-winning, Netflix original documentary directed by Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaimfilm, documents the 2011 Egyptian protests which led to the overthrow of military leader, Hosni Mubarak and the ousting of the country's fifth president, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013. The events are retold through the eyes of several young revolutionaries.


Awon Boyz (2019)

Shot in and around popular Lagos slums, 'Awon Boyz' documents an insightful exploration of life on the streets centering on individuals known as 'area boys'.

Directed by Tolulope Itegboe, the documentary film takes a close look at the lives of eight boys living and hustling on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria. They detail how their various life journeys led them to this lifestyle synonymous with crime and violence. The well-curated documentary also shows these young men who live in several slums ーMonkey Village, Oshodi, and the New Afrika Shrine ー popular for unruly activities share their dreams and ambitions, which helps to depict them in a different light than how society perceives them.


The Pearl of Africa(2016)

This film, directed by Jonny von Wallström, follows Cleopatra Kambugu, a transgender woman in Uganda, as she explores perceptions of gender identity in her home country and deals with the many challenges that arise from doing so. On the film's website, it's described as "an intimate story of resilience, courage, acceptance and self-determination told in an intimate, poetic way with a hope to make people more aware of the commonalities behind our humanity rather than the peculiarities of our multiple identities."


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