Colonialism hasn’t exactly left large swathes of Africa in a great position. If we weren’t stripping countries of natural resources or forcing populations into slavery, we were educating the natives to follow the worst tenets of our prejudiced societies. And whilst the Catholic church did their best to convert ‘the savages’ with their own brand of nonsense, some traditions are very difficult to change. One of the most ridiculous superstition which still holds rural populations in diverse parts of rural Africa in thrall is witchcraft. Rungano Nyoni’s new film I Am Not a Witch is a clever deadpan satire on Zambian society.
When Shula (Maggie Mulubwa), a nine-year-old girl, is accused of witchcraft, fails to speak-up and defend herself she becomes the first girl to be taken to a travelling witch camp. Shula is given a choice. Either she can have a spool or ribbon attached to her back and live as a witch, or she could cut the ribbon and escape but be cursed and turned into a goat. Slightly nonplussed, Shula chooses the former. She’s soon noticed by a bungling public official (Henry BJ Phiri) who spots a chance to exploit her ‘talent’ to make himself rich.
I Am Not a Witch is a smart satire about the double standards and corruption at play in Zambian society. It’s an inspired way to tackle a rather difficult subject. Nyoni does brilliantly to balance the humour with social commentary, playing out the story as a straight-faced drama. Maggie Mulubwa is perfectly cast as Shula. Her quiet contempt and annoyance is brilliant. I Am Not a Witch is an ingenious critique on a society which still puts so much emphasis on suspicion.
I Am Not a Witch is in cinemas & on demand from 20 October.