To start at the end of the movie, one might say first-time Director Rungano Nyoni’s film I Am Not a Witch is a shout out to the feminist movement. The final scene evokes freedom for all women, the chains are cut, no more bondage. It reminded me of something Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi said earlier this year when talking at the Southbank which was “I realized as a young girl I did not want to wash dishes”.
But looking at the film (filmed mostly in Zambia’s capital city Lusaka), from the beginning and at characters like government official Mr Banda (Henry Phiri), who kindly offers to take the young witch Shula (Margaret Mulubwa) under his care, the film deals with exploitation on all levels, child exploitation on the forefront, female exploitation and anyone who has been exploited. Rungano’s delivery of the message is slightly sugar-coated with a satirical humour that runs throughout, constantly getting audience laughs. This is how Rungano tackles the ancient phenomena of witchcraft in Sub-Sahara Africa. In the opening scenes villagers recount tales of how Shula’s witchcraft has affected them with one saying his arm was ripped off and magically fixed itself back.
Accusations of witchcraft in Africa towards young children are not taken lightly many subjected to a violent exorcism. In I Am Not a Witch 8-year old Shula is accused of witchcraft, denounced she is put in state custody and placed in a camp. An initiation ceremony shows her the rules of witchery, and like the other uniformed residents of the desert camp (mostly elders), Shula is tied to a ribbon attached to a coil in a large tree, and warned if the ribbon is cut she will be transformed into a goat. Throughout stunning photography showing the Zambezi landscape drives the story, alongside a nicely scripted film. Young Mulubwa owns the central character never filtering in her debut screen performance making the make believe believable. 4/5
I Am Not A Witch screened at the BFI London Film Festival running 4th -15th October. The film is being distributed by Curzon. The final screening is sold out but it is worth checking the box office for returns: