12 African Films to Watch this Women’s History Month
For centuries, women have been fighting for equality and representation, while battling against efforts to place them as second-class citizens. And African women have been in the thick of these battles, disrupting systems, questioning the status quo, and providing support systems for one another.
These diverse narratives highlight the experience and contributions of women towards building stronger and more resilient societies. Whether it’s the pursuit of reproductive rights, of resources for an ailing son or of a final resting place, these films celebrate the unwavering and indomitable spirit of African women.
In Maryam Touzani’s Cannes Film Festival-debuting Adam, a young woman (Nisrin Erradi), pregnant out of wedlock in the city of Casablanca, plans to give her child up for adoption as soon as the baby is born. Searching for work and shelter, she is reluctantly taken in by a widowed baker (Lubna Azabal) and her young daughter Warda. Adam is an effective look at the relationship between these two women, and the ways that women support women in a society where men make all the rules.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime Video
In Seko Shamte’s unabashedly pro-feminist drama Binti — the first Tanzanian film to be licensed on Netflix — the breadth of womanhood’s challenges are made front and center. Shamte tackles infertility, domestic violence, poverty and special needs parenting, through a quartet of stories that are only tangentially related. Without sacrificing narrative propulsion, Binti highlights several big issues, tracing how these various realities and inequalities unite women on the continent across several divides.
Where to stream: Netflix
Winner of the Jury Grand Prix at the 2017 Berlinale, Félicité is quite the demanding watch, as its inspired director Alain Gomis never really settles into any one rhythm or style. What is clear about the film though is the central narrative anchored by a fiery Vero Tshanda Beya in the titular role. Tshanda Beya’s Félicité is a fiercely independent single mother who has to scramble to save the life of her son after he is involved in an accident. Gomis has other ideas in mind though, as Félicité is as much a mood and musical piece as it is a dramatic one, with Gomis plumbing deep into the fractures of his heroine’s state of mind.
Where to stream: Apple TV/Amazon Prime Video/YouTube
I Am Not a Witch (2017)
In Rungano Nyoni’s dazzling yet heartbreaking feature length debut, women and girls are identified as witches sometimes for reasons as flimsy as an unwelcoming stare. They are thus tethered to the ground by colored ribbons tied to giant reels and the watchful gazes of the men who refuse to let them be. And what is sadder than a witch who cannot fly? Nyoni’s unforgettable I am Not a Witch is an attention-grabbing indictment of gender roles, superstition, and identity wrapped up in a magical realist package.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime/YouTube/Apple TV/Tubi TV
The Fisherman’s Diary (2020)
Inspired by the story of Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Enah Johnscot’s The Fisherman’s Diary is the tale of Ekah (Faith Fidel), a bright twelve year old Cameroonian girl who defies the will of her father and entire village to pursue an education. Encouraged by her schoolteacher, Ekah finds herself facing the prospect of defying her father or facing a bleak, unfulfilled future. There are no easy resolutions for Ekah — nor for the millions of African girl children unable to access basic education on account of the inequalities engendered by a fateful accident of birth.
Where to stream: Netflix
For Maria: Ẹ̀bùn Pàtàkì (2020)
In this blisteringly arresting debut by Nigerian filmmaker, Damilola Orimogunje, a first-time mother (a brilliant Meg Otanwa) cannot bring herself to bond with her newborn after a rather traumatic labor. The people around her are all well-meaning but impatient and ultimately unable to help, as she sinks further into the depths of melancholia. Moody and intentionally claustrophobic, For Maria tackles its central theme with bravura frankness and maturity, creating a rich world that lingers long after the haunting final sequence.
Where to stream: Netflix
Lingui, The Sacred Bonds (2021)
For the first time in his career, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, best known for exploring themes of fatherhood and brotherly love in his films, turns his gaze on the women folk. He emerges with the uplifting Lingui, The Sacred Bonds, a strongly feminist piece of filmmaking that zeroes in on the very hot button issue of reproductive rights. ‘Lingui’ is a Chadian term representing solidarity and collective resilience in the face of difficulty. Haroun unspools his thesis through the story of a single mother (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) determined to help her teenage daughter get an abortion in a conservative society.
Where to stream: MUBI
Nigeria’s first Netflix original film remains one of the finest showcases for the country’s world-famous film industry. Genevieve Nnaji, who really needs no introduction, is not only the star but the writer-director of this warm-hearted, feminist tale of a powerful Igbo transport business family navigating change in the boardroom and in their personal lives. When Nnaji’s Adaeze is passed over for the CEO position of her family business after her aging father is sidelined by illness, she must put aside her disappointment and work with her uncle, to reinvent and reposition the empire.
Where to stream: Netflix
Wanuri Kahiu‘s sophomore feature was banned upon release in Kenya, never mind that it was the country’s first film to compete at the Cannes Film Festival. Adapted by Kahui and South African screenwriter Jenna Bass from a story by Ugandan author Monica Arac de Nyeko, Rafiki may tick all the boxes expected from coming-of-age films, but Kahui keeps things fresh and charming enough to ensure that her film has a viable shelf life, long after the controversies have settled. The rebelliousness of Rafiki is understated, lying in Kahui’s ability to detail explicitly the challenges and dangers faced by LGBTQI communities.
Where to stream: Hulu/Showmax/Amazon Prime/Apple TV
Ties That Bind (2011)
This winning drama directed by acclaimed filmmaker Leila Djansi made a splash by drawing its top headliners from Nigeria, Ghana and the United States. Kimberly Elise, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and Ama K. Abebrese are all riveting in this soulful drama about three women bound together by a similar pain, child loss. In a Ghanaian village, the women come together to renovate a dilapidated clinic but also to claim redemption, find love, and restart the process of living again.
Where to stream: Tubi tv/ALLBLK
This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019)
This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection’s protagonist is Mantoa, (the late great Mary Twala), an 80 year-old childless widow in the Lesotho highlands. She directs her final energies into making proper arrangements for her own burial, even as the authorities try to relocate her village to make way for an irrigation project. Writer-director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s film is an accomplished and ethereal meditation on the triumph of personal advocacy, culminating in a powerful terminal sequence that has Mantoa ascending to the realms of legendary status.
Where to stream: The Criterion Channel/Amazon Prime/YouTube
This Oscar nominee in the best international feature film category packs a powerhouse performance by the veteran South African actress Leleti Khumalo, as a young mother dying of HIV/AIDS. Khumalo’s titular character vows to spend her remaining time putting her affairs in order and ensuring that her daughter is well taken care of. Directed by Darrell James Roodt, Yesterday tells a personal, yet political, story of the devastation wrought on the most vulnerable in African communities at the height of the HIV pandemic.
Where to stream: HBO Max/Hulu/YouTube