This year, the African film and television industry shone brightly, grabbing the attention of international film festivals and their sponsors, broadening the landscape for African storytelling and its impact on the global perception of Africa. Here are some of the African films and TV shows that defined 2023.
C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s visually captivating thriller Mami Wata is a reimagined ode to West African folklore The phrase Mami Wata directly translates to “Mother Water” and refers to the reverence and worship of water spirits. Although the film is cast in black and white, its message is still vibrant and difficult to forget, which is part of the reason why this film tops our list of favorite African cinema outputs this year. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was also Nigeria’s official entry for the Best International Feature at the Oscars next year.
GANGS OF LAGOS
Upon its release, Gangs of Lagos triggered praise, controversy, and critical acclaim The film, which delves into the intricacies of street life in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, was the world’s portal into the crime and violence in the streets of Lagos The film, which is Jáde Osiberu’s brainchild, aired on Amazon, triggering a lot of conversation about perpetuating negative African stereotypes. Overall, the carefully curated cast and riveting storyline made this film one of the most memorable this year.
AFRICAN FOLKTALES REIMAGINED
In African Folktales Reimagined, filmmakers from all over Africa collaborated to create a Netflix-friendly body of work. Although Folktales is rooted in traditional stories that pay homage to the traditions of old it is still curiously relatable to modern-day realities. The filmmakers, who hail from Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda and Mauritania, recreate a body of work that pays homage to each of these countries while still carrying a unified stance.
In Animalia, director Sofia Alaoui explores the interwoven elements of socio-cultural norms in a world where the arrival of aliens threatens life in Morocco, namely the life of a young pregnant woman. By dabbling in elements that may seem “otherworldly,” the film captures the core of themes that may seem otherworldly while maintaining its mysterious allure.
In Saint Omer, Alice Diop gives viewers an intimate exploration into the case of a troubled Senegalese mother standing trial for the premeditated murder of her 15-month-old child. The main character, Laurence Conly, played by Guslagie Malanda, is accused of intentionally leaving her baby on a beach to be swept away by the aggressive water waves. The poignant story is based on real-life events, with slight adaptations to make it film-friendly. The storyline is simple enough; however, the film itself, which centers around the trial, highlights that life isn’t black-and-white, and the truth can present itself in gray areas.
YOUNG, FAMOUS, AND AFRICAN
The producers of Young, Famous & African brought together the glitziest cast to highlight African opulence on a whole other level. If there ever was a cinematic output on this list that fiercely defies the age-old idea that Africa is a dormant continent with few opportunities, this is it. The show’s casting directors were on an obvious mission when they selected specific, successful personalities from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, and Tanzania. One of the most stand-out elements of the show is the cast’s outfits, which are carefully curated expressions of luxury. Rife with drama, camaraderie, and occasional snobbiness, the show arguably secured its spot as one of the highest-rated African programs of the year.
After an illicit affair with a younger man turns tragic, a married woman becomes skeptical about the world around her. The South African thriller stars Kgomotso Christopher, Prince Grootboom, and Thapelo Mokoena, and it is as riveting as it is compelling. Fatal Seduction captures the essence of life and all of the ways that morality can be a skewed, altered, and complex reality, especially when passion is involved.
OUR FATHER, THE DEVIL
The psychological thriller, which premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, follows the story of Marie (Babetida Sadjo), an African refugee who leads a quiet life in a small French town, but who is reminded of her dark past with the emergence of the charismatic Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane). Described as “stirring” and “a tour de force”, the film has received several awards, including Best Feature Narrative at the 2022 Indie Memphis Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2022 Heartland Film Festival.