By Siya Ben18 September 2020
A truly Zambian story in I Am Not A Witch
While most eight-year-olds are busy with their friends, toys and other glitzy gadgets, Shula (played by Maggie Mulubwa) finds herself having to adjust to life as a witch. This comes after she’s sent to a witch camp when she’s accused of having supernatural powers that leave villagers feeling uncomfortable around her.
Set in Zambia, award-winning movie I am Not A Witch, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, can be seen as art imitating life. The movie, directed by Rungano Nyoni, is based on real-life witch camps. The Zambian-Welsh director did extensive research while preparing for the movie and even ended up spending about a month in Ghana’s witch camps and villages learning about the older women accused of witchcraft and shunned by their communities.
For her directorial debut, Nyoni wanted to share the story of these women and the harmful cultural practices they have to endure. Although this is no laughing matter, Nyoni uses satire to get the message across and perfectly tells the story through a child’s eyes. Maggie does a brilliant job of portraying Shula and there’s no way you can tell that this is her first acting role.
Shula steals the show and makes a lasting impact from the moment she appears on screen. She has incredible presence, even though she’s silent in most of her scenes – despite being accused of things she didn’t do.
Although some may have their own negative expectations of what a witch camp is supposed to look like – people being killed and all kinds of rituals – I Am Not A Witch depicts these women in a very warm and positive light. They welcome Shula with open arms and teach her everything she needs to know about being a witch. And, it’s not the kind of dark magic you would expect from a film about witchcraft; these women use their gifts to help the government fight crime. The fact that officer Banda (played by Henry BJ Phiri) goes straight to the witches camp to get help when criminals give him a hard time shows that the women mean no harm.
I Am Not A Witch will make you angry, cry and also laugh at the same time. Oh, and you will also have moments where you ask yourself if these things really happen. While the world seems to be moving and changing at a rapid pace, some countries still believe in archaic practices that were designed to oppress women.
Through the film, Nyoni brings the world’s attention to one of the many injustices faced by women in Zambia. Sometimes telling a story doesn’t require a big budget and A-list stars. As long as you have a good storyline and the right cast members, your message will come across.
I Am Not a Witch is available to stream on Showmax.