Review: I Am Not a Witch

In this odd little satirical film from Zambian-born director Rungano Nyoni, 8-year-old Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is branded a witch and sent away to the camp where all the other witches are kept. It’s a strange place that tourists are brought to to see the women (yes, they’re all female) all tied to enormous spools of white ribbon, which allow them only limited freedom to roam and keeps them from flying away. Shula is told she can either accept the spool or be transformed into a goat. She grudgingly takes on the spool.

Shula’s act of sorcery is that she simply appeared in a village. And when ordinary accidents happen there, she is suddenly to blame and taken to the police who don’t know what to do about it. But eventually Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri), the minister of Tourism and Traditional Beliefs is contacted, and since he’s got a stake in the witch tourism biz, he takes Shula off the police’s hands and right to the camp. She’s the only little girl there, but the older women take good care of her. But when Mr. Banda needs a witch to help him in his business – all very natural in modern Africa – he uses her imaginary powers of detection to settle matters of justice, and eventually becomes her guardian, bringing her into his house with his wife, a former witch herself. Meanwhile all the other witches are being used as slave labor in the fields. It’s a very African dystopian world that feels akin to Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale.”

What’s most disconcerting is the modern cellphone world rubbing up against the very rural superstitious one. Fortunately, writer/director Nyoni does a brilliant job of building believability into her fable. (Of course, there are actually plenty of places in Africa right now that regularly accuse women of being witches.) And her cast of mostly non-actors is wonderful, especially Mulubwa, the exploited child from nowhere who is not allowed to be a child. It’s definitely an arty film, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The film has won all kinds of awards and was the UK’s Oscar submission. (Nyoni lives in Wales.)

[Mainstream Chick’s take: This is one of those arty films that I did not particularly enjoy. It’s filled with lots of well-meaning feminist allegory, but in the end, I found it just plain weird. I Am Not a Witch is definitely best left to the arthouse crowd to ruminate over. -hb]

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