Despite being a gigantic continent influenced by dramatic social changes, undergoing political unrest and turbulent economic transitions, Africa also possesses one of the richest cultural heritages in the world. In particular, over the past few decades, African cinema has begun to experience greater international recognition. From South Africa to Kenya, Angola to Senegal, our selection of 10 movies is a vibrant celebration of the continent and an essential glimpse into modern day Africa today.
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) | South Africa
Original and timelessly charming, the smash-hit The Gods Must Be Crazy is one of the most popular comedies to come out of the African continent. Essentially a story about the profound difference between two cultures, it is a movie of cultural communication and curiosity. Following a bushman who discovers a coke bottle dropped by a passing plane, the object is considered a gift from the gods by his local village. In an effort to track down its meaning, he endeavors to travel to the edge of the world to destroy it. In the process, he crosses paths with a clumsy biologist, a schoolteacher, a reporter and a band of revolutionaries looking to overthrow the government. Hilarious from start to finish, the movie is a comical allegory of the clash of modern civilization and old-world African traditions.
Black Girl (1966) | Senegal
Black Girl is considered to be one of the first Sub-Saharan African movies by an African filmmaker to gain international recognition. Following the story of Diouana, a young woman from Dakar, the plot sees her move to France to become a nanny for a wealthy French couple – with time, she realizes that she is no more than a slave to the family. With beautiful black and white images, Ousmane Sembène’s film is a poignant story of cultural alienation, much of which is still present in European communities today, as well as a powerful commentary on long-standing issues of colonialism and racism.
From A Whisper (2009) | Kenya
Kenyan drama From A Whisper is based on events surrounding the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998. Directed by African Movie Academy Award winner Wanuri Kahiu, the movie has won numerous awards and explores the lingering impact of the violent attack by casting a spotlight on its victims and their families. It focuses on a young intelligence officer, Abu, who meets a rebellious artist in search of her mother. As their relationship develops, conversation brings up Abu’s memories of his best friend, killed the in US embassy bomb attack a decade previously. Ultimately, the movie examines the hardship of loss, the futility of friendship and an individual’s attempts to come to term with his, or her, faith.
Hyenas (1992) | Senegal
As a Senegalese village falls further into poverty, the village elders must sell the town possessions to pay off their debts. When a former resident, Linguère, returns to the place of her birth, the villagers hope that she will be the town’s benefactor and appoint a local grocer, who used to court her in her youth, to persuade her to part with her wealth. However, the woman has other plans and she has already returned with the intention of sharing her millions – yet, there is a price to pay. Hyenas gives an insight into African poverty and the element of human folly. Based on the Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1959 play ‘The Visit,’ the movie similarly highlights the ways in which money does, ultimately, rule the world.
Hotel Rwanda (2004) | Rwanda
Hotel Rwanda is a heart-wrenching historical drama about the genocide that took place in Rwanda over a decade ago. As one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind took place on the African continent, in which over 1 million people were murdered in just 3 months, ashamedly the world looked the other way. Terry George’s movie follows an ordinary family man with the extraordinary courage to help thousands of displaced refugees by providing them with shelter in the hotel he manages. Focusing on the madness of genocide and the violent inhumanity of war, the movie gives audiences an insight into Rwanda’s dark history but also casts a new perspective on the power of instinctual heroism.
Tsotsi (2005) | South Africa
Set in a city slum in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tsotsi follows events surrounding a young street thug who steals a car. Discovering a child in the back seat, he finds redemption through the care of the young infant and an unforeseen change overcomes him. The movie is a deeply moving portrait of suffering in contemporary Africa and the tragedy of social isolation amongst lost communities. Away from the modern urban dramas so often forced by Hollywood, this raw story remains real and is told with a powerful conviction – it is unsurprising that Tsotsi won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and remains one of the best movies to come out of the South African film industry.