Cinematic excellence

The 10 best African films of 2023…so far

By Wilfred Okiche

Posted on August 11, 2023 07:43

A film still from “Shimoni” (The Pit), directed by Angela Wanjiku Wamai
A film still from “Shimoni” (The Pit), directed by Angela Wanjiku Wamai

It has been quite the solid start to the cinematic year with African films making strong showings at the world’s most prestigious film festivals.

From Sundance to Berlin, Cannes to Fespaco, African films have received critical acclaim and buzzworthy prizes. The Africa Report takes a survey of the year in film so far, across the theatrical and streaming landscapes and presents 10 of the strongest titles to emerge, plus where to stream them. 

African Folktales Reimagined (Kenya/Mauritania/Nigeria/South Africa/Tanzania/Uganda)

In partnership with UNESCO, streaming giant Netflix selected young filmmakers from six different African countries for this anthology series of short films taking multiple spins on folktales common to their respective communities.

The filmmakers were mentored and handed decent budgetary provisions to execute their projects in their local languages. The six interesting shorts make a case for preserving oral traditions through the visual medium. 

Where to watch: Netflix. 

Banel & Adama (Senegal/Mali/ France)

Senegalese-French auteur, Ramata-Toulaye Sy was the sole debutante feature filmmaker to be named in a main competition stacked with heavyweights at the Cannes film festival this year.

Sy’s feature debut Banel & Adama is an assured and often troubling love story — think Romeo and Juliet in a rustic Senegalese village — suffused with gorgeous imagery as well as commentary on community, tradition and the climate crisis. 

Bobi Wine: The People’s President (Uganda/UK/US)

Directors Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo were on the ground with Ugandan pop star-turned-lawmaker Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) as he attempted a run against Yoweri Museveni for the presidency in 2021. 

Bobi Wine: The People’s President is an intriguing chronicle of democracy under threat and one man’s stand against state oppression. The film captures Wine’s charisma and can-do spirit as he rises from the slums to international prominence. 

Gangs of Lagos (Nigeria)

A trio of interesting characters find themselves trapped in a cycle of violence on the streets and hustle for a way out. Amazon Prime Video’s first original property on the continent is a two-hour epic run through the streets of Isale Eko, one of Lagos state’s most iconic urban neighbourhoods.

Co-written, produced and directed by Jádesola Osiberu, Gangs of Lagos is a stylish caper, heavily influenced by the work of the legendary American director Martin Scorsese.  

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video. 

Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire (South Africa/US)

Disney’s sprawling animated sci-fi is about as high profile and exciting as one would expect from a project backed by one of the world’s biggest studios.

In the wake of Black Panther, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire was greenlit to present 10 unique Afrofuturistic short stories as dreamed up by a select row of the next generation of animation creators from the continent. Inspired by history, culture and folktales, the worlds created here dare to embrace the dark and the mysterious.  

Where to watch: Disney+ 

Le Spectre de Boko Haram (Cameroon/France)

This visually striking account of the impact of the terror group Boko Haram as seen through the eyes of child victims debuted at the Rotterdam film festival in January where director Cyrielle Raingou won the festival’s top prize.

Raingou follows a trio of children in a border town in Cameroon’s northern region as they come of age amid the dangers of armed conflict. Le Spectre de Boko Haram acknowledges the contrasts of conflicts and chooses to celebrate the humanity of the survivors. 

Mami Wata (Nigeria/France/UK)

C.J. Obasi’s third feature length film Mami Wata is a mesmerising fable that delves into one of the most popular stories across West Africa and beyond. According to the legend, Mami Wata is, a mermaid goddess both benevolent and terrifying depending on her mood.

Obasi’s expressionist black and white feature, which premiered at the Sundance film festival, tells a simple enough story of good versus evil and the need for balance while hurtling towards rapid change. 

Where to watch: Opens 8, September across theatres in Nigeria. 

Milisuthando (South Africa/Colombia)

This inventive eponymous stunner conceived, written and directed by South African writer-turned-filmmaker Milisuthando Bongela is poised to become a future classic.

Presented in five chapters, Milisuthando is a complex yet personal undertaking that assumes different iterations, exploring several ideas while managing to hold on to a coherent core. The film details Bongela’s experience growing up in the Transkei, a segregated region established as a South African apartheid-era experiment. 

Sira (Burkina Faso/Senegal/France/Germany)

In her latest feature, the action drama Sira, which opened the Durban International Film Festival this year, acclaimed Burkinabè director Apolline Traoré dreams up one of her most impressive heroines yet.

The titular heroine played by newcomer Nafissatou Cissé is a young Fulani nomad who is caught up in the insurgency that afflicts her region. Attacked by terrorists and left for dead, Sira refuses to surrender to her fate without putting up a fight. 

Shimoni (Kenya)

In this accomplished debut feature by editor turned director Angela Wanjiku Wamai, a former schoolteacher, Geoffrey (the stellar Justin Mirichii) struggles to reintegrate into society after he is released from prison. Dispatched to the village where he grew up, Geoffrey must begin to reckon head on with the demons from his past. Loosely translated from Swahili as ‘The Pit’, Shimoni is a stark, intense drama presented with Wamai’s distinct eye for precision.  

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