Thursday, September 27, 2018

The story of a young 'witch'

Rungano Nyoni, described in her biography as a Zambian/Welsh director, demonstrates a keen eye for the strange hypocrisies and contradictions in everyday life among ordinary villagers in Zambia. Nyoni's I Am Not a Witch focuses on what we're told is a "witch camp," a place where women who've been targeted as witches perform what looks to be forced labor. Sometimes, they pose with painted faces for tourists hungry for some exoticism. Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) shows up early. She's a serious-looking eight-year-old who may have been orphaned and who seems entirely lost. It doesn't take long for Shula, who has evidently no place else to go, to be encouraged to identify herself as a witch. As a low-level government official with a keen eye for exploitation, Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phir) takes a proprietary interest in Shula. She'll be good for tourism. Shula becomes government property. Nyoni finds warmth in the close ties among the women, who are victimized by the idiocy that arises from conflicts between government, tribal authorities and self-serving officials. Not without humor, I Am Not a Witch ultimately rests on Shula's story, which builds toward a mournful and mysterious finale.

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