Podcast Episode 79: 'Last Dance In Kaloleni' Will Show Kenya In New Light
First-time filmmaker Bettina Ng'weno looks to political, social and musical transformations
"Black Girl" (1966)
"Hotel Rwanda" (2004)
When you think of Africa on film, what comes to mind? Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in "Out of Africa"? Leonardo DiCaprio in "Blood Diamond"? If so, then here's a fresh take on Africa from a first-time filmmaker from Kenya.
No matter how well-intentioned or well-crafted, those films gave us white central characters in stories about Africa. There's nothing particularly wrong with that except that it appears that's the only way Hollywood knows how to tell a story about Africa. Even "Cry Freedom," the story of Steven Biko seemed to spend more time on the perils a white journalist went through then on Biko’s life.
All this frustrates Bettina Ng’weno. She is the daughter of a Kenyan father and a French mother. She’s an associate professor in cultural anthropology at UC Davis, and splits her time between California and Kenya. Now she wants to make a movie about music, dance, and trains in Kenya.
She says most films made outside of Africa about the continent — and especially those made by Hollywood — fall prey to certain stereotypes and tropes. In addition to giving us white lead characters, many films tend to present the African characters as noble savages or the façade through which others find their humanity. When films move to an urban African setting they tend to focus on disaffected violent youth as with "Tsotsi," a film made in South Africa but which Hollywood picked up and distributed.
I’ve known Ng'weno for decades because my grandparents and her grandparents were close friends. She comes from a long line of people who are doers and not mere talkers. So the fact that she was not seeing the Africa she knew being depicted in mainstream films led her to not just complain, but to take action and make her own film, "Last Dance to Kaloleni."
She wrote her first screenplay, and then made a short film to help generate interest in the feature length version, and just launched a Kickstarter to raise funds.
She describes the film as “bringing to life Kenya’s political, social and musical transformations in a dramatic romantic story of a love triangle and dance competitions.“
I know she is a first-time filmmaker and her feature is not even done yet but she’s a delightful, intelligent, passionate person and she will make you see Africa in a new light so I hope you will take a listen. Plus she provided me with some wonderful music that inspired the film.