As 2023 draws to a close, let's check out some of the cinematic gems that have graced our screens this year. African films have been powerhouse of storytelling, capturing the diverse cultures, histories, and social issues that resonate within the continent for a global audience. From the bustling streets of Lagos to the serene landscapes of the Sahara, these films take us on a journey through the rich tapestry that is Africa.
1. Gangs of Lagos
Gangs of Lagos" is a riveting crime thriller that takes you deep into the underbelly of Lagos, Nigeria. The film, directed by Jade Osiberu, follows Obalola and his friends, Ify and Gift, as they navigate a life of crime under the ruthless gang leader Kazeem. With standout performances from Tayo Faniran as 'Nino', Adesua Etomi as 'Gift',Chike as 'Ify' and Tobi Bakre as Obalola, the movie masterfully blends action, emotion, and suspense. Despite some criticisms for being overly dramatic, it's a must-watch that showcases the storytelling prowess of Nollywood.
"Orah" is a gripping drama, highlighting elements of revenge, justice, and the immigrant experience. Directed by Lonzo Nzekwe, the film follows Orah Madukaku, played by Oyin Oladejo, a Nigerian refugee in Canada who becomes embroiled in a dangerous money laundering scheme. When her son is murdered on the orders of the scheme's ringleader, Bami Hazar, Orah embarks on a relentless quest for vengeance. Filmed in both Canada and Nigeria, the movie boasts a strong ensemble cast, including Lucky Onyekachi Ejim and Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama,Oris Erhuero, O.C. Ukeje and Femi Lawson.
"Mvera" is a hard-hitting Kenyan drama that exposes the dark underbelly of corruption and organ trafficking in a coastal community near Mombasa. Directed by Daudi Anguka and starring Linah Sande as Mvera, the film follows the journey of its titular character, a young woman who initially seeks employment abroad through a local company owned by the cunning Thabiti, played by Patrick Owino. However, she soon realizes that the company is a front for an organ trafficking ring. Fueled by a sense of duty and her own personal quest to find her lost mother, Mvera takes it upon herself to expose Thabiti, who is ironically poised to become the community's next Governor. The film is a blend of English and Swahili and is Kenya's entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards. It draws inspiration from real-life Kenyan independence activist Mekatilili Wa Menza and tackles the grim realities of exploitation under the guise of opportunity.
4. Banel & Adama
Banel & Adama" is a poignant romantic drama that portrays the intricacies of love, tradition, and societal expectations in a remote Senegalese village. Directed by Ramata-Toulaye Sy, the film premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival and is Senegal's entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards. The story revolves around young lovers Banel and Adama, who defy their community by choosing to live separately and refusing to adhere to traditional roles. Adama's decision to reject his birthright as the future tribal chief and Banel's disinterest in motherhood spark chaos and drought in their village, leading the community to blame Banel for the calamities. The film is lauded for its nuanced portrayal of its characters, especially Banel, who is far from the demure Juliet figure; she's fierce, pugnacious, and unapologetically herself.
Animalia" is a genre-bending French-Moroccan sci-fi film that explores the interwoven fabric of societal norms, spirituality, and otherworldly phenomena. Directed by Sofia Alaoui, the film follows Itto, a Berber woman from a poor background, who is married to Amine, a man from a wealthy family. Left alone in her in-laws' luxurious villa during a massive storm, Itto embarks on a journey to find her husband, encountering mysterious events and a fellow Berber, Fouad, along the way. The film dabbles in the spiritual and the extraterrestrial, offering a unique take on world-ending disasters as moments of deep spiritual awakening. Itto's journey also serves as a critique of Moroccan society, highlighting the difficulties she faced as a woman caught between different worlds—both socially and spiritually.
6. The passenger
A 2023 Ugandan thriller directed by Hadijah Nakanjako and penned by Meddy Sserwadda. The film revolves around a young man, Musa Kibalama, who is on a mission to deliver a mysterious package to the city via bus. However, another passenger, Regina Nabatanzi, suspects that Musa is carrying something far more sinister—either a mutilated body or a bomb—and is hell-bent on stopping him. The tension-filled narrative keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as the characters' motives and the contents of the package remain shrouded in mystery. Produced by Usama Mukwaya and commissioned by Maisha Magic Movies, the film marks Hadijah's directorial debut and stars Henry Nathan Katongole, Allen Musumba, and Olot Bonny Elem in leading roles
Sira" is a 2023 drama portraying the harrowing experiences of a young Fulani girl named Sira, who becomes a victim of Islamist terrorism. Directed by Apolline Traoré, the film won the Panorama Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival. The narrative follows Sira as she travels to meet her groom, only to be attacked and raped by Islamist terrorists. Left for dead, she takes refuge and struggles for survival, eventually transforming into a determined avenger. The film critiques not just male brutality but also the hypocrisy of those who commit heinous acts in the name of religion. Nafissatou Cissé delivers an intense performance as Sira, capturing the intensity of a woman pushed to the edge but refusing to break.
8. I do not come to you by chance
"I Do Not Come To You By Chance" is a film adaptation of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's novel that probes the moral dilemma faced by Kingsley, a young graduate who becomes the breadwinner of his family after his father's death. Torn between his morals and the need to escape poverty, Kingsley is tempted to join his uncle, Cash Daddy, in the world of 419 scams. The film serves as a cautionary tale about the dilemma of making ethical choices in a challenging environment. It captures realities of Igbo culture and offers standout performances, particularly from Paul Nnadiekwe and veteran Blossom Chukwujekwu. The movie was directed by Ishaya Bako (The Royal Hibiscus) and co-produced with Genevieve Nnaji (Lionheart) the first Nigerian movie maker to have her film on Netflix.
9. Death of a whistleblower
"Death of a Whistleblower" is a high-stakes political thriller that follows investigative journalist Luyanda Masinda as she unravels a dangerous conspiracy following the assassination of her undercover lover and fellow reporter, Stanley. Directed by Ian Gabriel, the film highlights the real and pressing issue of whistleblower assassinations in South Africa, shedding light on government corruption and the fight for transparency. The film stars Noxolo Dlamini in her debut feature film lead role, and she delivers a compelling performance.
10. Kizazi moto
"Kizazi Moto" is a 2023 animated film by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pan-African company Kugali, directed by Ziki Nelson. Set in a futuristic Africa, the film follows a group of young superheroes fighting to save the continent from an ancient evil. Notable for its blend of traditional African art and modern animation, the film has been praised for its cultural representation and fresh take on the superhero genre.
In a year that has seen its fair share of challenges and triumphs, African cinema has blessed its audience with creativity, resilience, and cultural richness. These top African movies of 2023 offer a window into the diverse experiences and stories that define the continent—from Lagos' overcrowded streets to the serenity of Senegal. They took us on a ride through gritty realities of corruption to the fantastical realms of animated heroes. These films are a testament to the storytelling prowess and artistic vision of African filmmakers, and they pave the way for what promises to be an even more exciting future for cinema on the continent. Don't miss out on these cinematic masterpieces; they're more than just movies—they're cultural landmarks.