Movies to Watch to Better Understand Africa

by Fae Esperas

Africa is more than just a continent known for its deserts and safaris. It is also a vast piece of land that's been divided by colonization, ethnic groups, language, and culture. Unlike other regions in the world, it’s difficult to find common ground in Africa. You either find shared commonalities amongst nations, or discover a distinction amongst its multitude of peoples and ethnic groups.

The Bushmens home of The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Bushmen’s home of The Gods Must Be Crazy

Because of its diverse history, Africa has become a subject of various motion pictures, many focus on socio-political conflicts but others are lighthearted comedies. Watching these movies is helpful way to get a sneak peek of African society, and an understanding of the life of the people living in the so-called dark continent.

1. Blood Diamond

Set in the middle of Sierra Leone's chaotic civil war in the 1990s, "Blood Diamond" follows the struggles of fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) and gunrunner Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they become embroiled in the lewd and corrupt government system of a country engaged in the blood diamond business. 

The movie tackles the seedy underbelly of the blood diamond business by showing how it has destroyed the lives of many locals in Sierra Leone and Western Africa. People were pulled out of their livelihood to work for warlords and pan for diamonds as slaves. 

2. Hotel Rwanda

Another political thriller is "Hotel Rwanda” starring actor Don Cheadle. The movie tells the life story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who saved several lives during an ongoing genocide. 

"Hotel Rwanda" focuses on the tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes in Rwanda. Rusesabagina is from the Hutu tribe, while his wife, Tatiana, is Tutsi. As the conflicts between their peoples arose, Rusesabagina decided to welcome families ensnared in the war to take refuge in his hotel. He had to bribe and blackmail government officials in order to save lives in a country plagued with corruption.

3. The Last King of Scotland

"The Last King of Scotland" is based on a novel of the same name by Giles Foden. It stars James McAvoy as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, a Scottish doctor who moves to Uganda and is hired as the personal physician of the country's dictator, Idi Amin, played by Forest Whitaker. The movie is based on actual events during Amin's regime, and the title came from a reporter who tried to verify whether Amin declared himself the King of Scotland, as he was known to invent imperial titles for his own sake.

4. The Constant Gardener

This spy-thriller film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, is based in Kenya. It tells the story of Justin Quayle, a British diplomat who worked on his own to investigate the mysterious murder of his activist wife, which led him to the discovery of a medical experimentation scheme taking place in Africa. He found out that a large pharmaceutical company was testing a tuberculosis drug on Kenyan locals under an AIDS test cover-up. The testing was backed by an NGO, an African aid station, and corrupt officials in the British Foreign Office.

5. The Gods Must Be Crazy

Who says African films should all be serious? If you're looking for something comic, then you should grab a bag of popcorn and prepare for some laughs with "The Gods Must Be Crazy."

The 1980 movie, which became a box-office hit with three sequels, starred Nixau, a bushman, and his first encounters with the white men, whom he assumed to be "gods." The movie depicts the hilarious cultural clash that ensues between modern society and the simplicity of the bushmen of the Kalahari Desert.

A Coke bottle becomes a mysterious object from the sky and is believed to be the root of all evil in this fun film! If you want some inspiration for studying African culture, or are just looking for a way to adopt a simpler way of living, then it’s definitely a must.

Bonus Features:

Other films about Africa that are worth some couch potato time are … 

1. The Bang Bang Club – Based on the experience of four combat photographers who captured the last days of the South African apartheid

2. The Interpreter – Starring Nicole Kidman, the story follows a UN interpreter seeking revenge against the ruthless dictator of the fictional country of Matobo, her family’s home country

3. Desert Flower – A biopic of model Waris Dirie, a Somali woman who underwent female circumcision at age 3, was sold to be a wife at 13, and escaped to London to follow her dream