A unique look at the weird concept of witch camps and superstitious beliefs in Ghana and Zambia, movie ‘I am not a witch’ strives to use humor as the background theme. Introducing the audience to novel areas termed as witch camps, Writer-director Rungano Nyoni brings a fresh tale to the table. Though the movie runs as a fictional story, it draws real-life experiences from several places where the witch concept is still alive. Labeled as dangerous witches who can harm humans on earth, these women are secluded into camps and often displayed to tourist members in one-of-kind zoo. Director Nyongi has done an incredible job by mixing humor into the story. Rather than gaining sympathy or being sad, she has shown silly behavior of the so-called ‘normal people’ of society who still believe in concepts such as witches, black magic and traditional superstitions.
The story takes us through the journey of newly identified witch Shula. A little orphan of nine years, Shula does not understand how and why she is put into this witch camp. As elders in the village declare her behavior as weird, she is forcefully put into the camp with other elder women. Soon, she finds herself treated as a witch with matching make-up or paint over her face and ribbon to identify her as one. As a unique young witch, she is made famous instantly. While the witch camp official Mr. Banda hopes to be recognized for his good work, he partners with the little witch to solve random cases in the village. Without realizing she is just another human, villagers believe in the witch-like powers.
Though the movie talks about a disturbing concept, it uses humor, sarcasm and satire to make a strong point. Every character is sketched flawlessly. The plot builds the entire experience step by step, while the audience is left amazed and surprised. By choosing a little girl as the protagonist, ‘I am not a witch’ succeeds in delivering its message. As long as such silly concepts are entertained and believed, the future will only look bleak.
The movie portrays the injustice and stupidity of few people who still look at the witches as real. With Shula’s experiences, the story depicts the mentality in a clear way. From a funny official who strives to be famous to silly villagers who believe in this power, the entire plot is simply interesting. The movie deserves the credit of showing the reality. Though the writer uses fictional theme, it succeeds in conveying the underlying message.
With humor and sarcasm, the movie builds relatable influence. It avoids stereotypical temptation of being serious and sad, instead uses silly behavior of people to make us wonder whether to laugh or be angry. Warned of being turned into a goat, Shula faces the trouble of just accepting her future. It shows her desire to be bold and different, and even face death if that is what it takes for few moments of freedom.
Trapped, troubled yet hoping for a difference, Shula portrays an excellent character, while she strongly believes ‘I am not a witch’.
Opening September 7th at Quad Cinema and BAMCinematek in New York City with more markets to follow.
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