(The fabulous Oak Cliff Film Festival ran June 14-17. We have a smattering of reviews from one of our favorite fests so, stay tuned…)
Zambia-born Welsh director Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch is a bitterly biting satire that blends absurdism with ethnography. One would think a film about African witch camps would be completely fictional, but sadly these camps still truly exist and Nyoni examined these camps firsthand. Just like in the proverbial “first world”, some African nations still seek to dehumanize their female population.
In Nyoni’s film, the women are presented as exhibits kept behind a metal fence like animals in a zoo. They are intended to be ogled and mystified. Their white face paint and blank stares differentiate them from modern society. They are frighteningly foreign, especially to the western world.
Nyoni hones in on the story of an 8-year old girl, Shula (Margaret Mulubwa), who is accused of being a witch in her rural Zambian village. Functioning as a target of blame for the mistakes and misfortunes of others, Shula opts not to stand up for herself, so the immediate assumption is that she must be a witch – at least so says the Shakespearean chorus who bangs on the police station window while viciously awaiting the young girl’s sentencing. Silence equates to guilt, no matter how intimidating and strange the situation. Shula therefore represents all women who find themselves in voiceless situations, in which wealthy male politicians deem their fate. In a sublimely Monty Python-esque moment, the politician enlists a male witch doctor to determine Shula’s fate. Her future is left up to whether a slaughtered chicken dies within an arbitrary circle or not. They might as well try dunking her in water.
I Am Not a Witch exists as an allegory for corrupt male politicians controlling women. This is a totalitarian landscape in which witches are forced to become “soldiers of the government.” Historically, only elderly females (those deemed to be financial burdens on their families) were accused to be witches. Shula’s case opens things up to give men the freedom to imprison women at a significantly earlier age. It may typically be metaphorical, but these politicians find ways to fence women in, tethering them to a certain set of behaviors. In Nyoni’s film politicians seem to pride themselves in giving the women more ribbon, basically increasing the length of their leash. As if that actually makes them decent human beings (insert eye roll here).
Of course Shula is not a witch, because I Am Not a Witch is grounded firmly in reality, and witchcraft does not really exist. Unfortunately, Nyoni’s film exists in a world in which the U.S. President unjustifiably utilizes the term “witch hunt” on a daily basis. For Trump, “witch hunt” means unjustly accused (in his own opinion), but it really hearkens back to the Salem Witch Trials. One of the many things Trump does not understand is that “witch hunts” have historically been a tool for men to control women. The accusations regarding Trump have nothing to do with controlling him based upon his sexuality or gender, so this is hyperbole that is even embarrassing for someone as ridiculous as Trump. To place Trump on the same plain as Shula is comical at best.
– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)