African films that touch on the protest culture and history

African countries have experienced history-changing events marked by protests, demonstrations, and episodes of oppression. Some of these events have been captured well through cinema.

The recent #EndSars unrest in Nigeria saw a peaceful protest evolve into an international movement led by the youth, advocating for societal justice. Nigerians in the diaspora played a key role in organizing demonstrations that supported their counterparts back at home. The situation reached a climax when the Nigerian army fired live ammunition at peaceful protestors congregated at the Lekki tollgate venue in Lagos. Captured in this list are several films in the cinema that contextualizes this rich history.

Amandla! (South Africa) (2002)

Amandla! Perfectly portrays the culmination of the celebrations that marked the election of South African President Nelson Mandela in 1994. In the Xhosa language, Amandla means “power.” Expertly produced by American documentary expert Lee Hirsch, the film took nine years in the works to best portray the power of freedom music. The film brings out how people might not grasp the message of political speeches, but inspire the call-to-arms of songs that can serve as a formidable means of communication.

Significant moments where archival material and interviews included forced relocation of black citizens from their once-thriving townships to boxlike houses under government-controlled areas.

Burkinabè Rising (2018)

The people captured in the film depict the revolutionary spirit of Burkina Faso’s revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara. The tiny West African country features the best in African film, music, architecture, and visual art. director Lara Lee traveled across the country in 2016 to film Burkinabè Rising: the art of resistance in Burkina Faso. The film displays a series of creative resistance manifested through cultural expression. Sankara rose into power in 1983 and was assassinated in 1987 in a coup d’etat led by his close advisor Blaise Compaoré.

Revolution from Afar (2020) (Sudan)

Out of frustration and due to unbearable living conditions, Sudanese citizens took to the streets to revolt against Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir and his dictatorial rule that lasted for 30 years. Bashir seized power through a military coup and in classic poetic justice got deposed by a non-violent uprising. The Sudan revolution was promoted by the #BlueforSudan campaign on social media that began after the June 3 massacre, prompting an internet blackout that left people in Sudan and those in the diaspora cut off from their friends and family members.

The film Revolution from Afar offers an enlightening outlook into the dual nature of the Sudanese people living in the diaspora including the unique challenges they face. Featured are Sudanese-American musicians and poets who carry out performances and engage in conversations over third culture identity.

Softie 2020 (Kenya)

The film carries an artfully captured theme of resistance driven by Keyan photojournalist and political activist Boniface Mwangi. The story narrates his tale of trying to make the country a better place. The film tries to portray the milestones that can be achieved when the individual is faced with impossible situations. Using Mwangi’s run-ins with the law and unsuccessful run for legislative office, the dangers of street activism and community mobilization are laid plain for all to see.

Downstream to Kinshasa

The film is produced by Congolese outfit Kiripifilms alongside France’s Les Films de l’Oeil Sauvage, and Neon Rouge from Belgium. Captured are the stories of war victims who have spent over 20 years fighting for official recognition of the conflict and compensation for their suffering. This was the first Congolese film to make it to the Cannes Film Festival. The war captures the conflict between Rwandan and Ugandan forces - a war that’s almost entirely forgotten today.