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White Material: Top Ten Modern Films Set in Africa

03 December 2010

Throughout the past ten years Africa has featured heavily in the media for reasons and this was mirrored by a strong presence in film. We take a look at some highlights from the noughties, a decade that saw some truly great films that were set in the colourful continent of Africa.

White Material. “No more smirking. We're stopping the bullshit right now and staying put.” The regular army is preparing to reestablish order in the country. To clean up. To eliminate the rebel officer also known as The Boxer and rid the countryside of roving child soldiers. All the expatriates have gone home, getting out before things turn nasty.

Of the Vials - coffee planters who have lived here for two generations - Maria stands firm. She’s not about to give in to rumors or abandon her harvest at the first sound of gunfire.

Just like her father-in-law and her ex-husband who is also the father of her son (a little too much of a slacker in her opinion) she is convinced that Cherif, mayor of the neighboring town, will protect them. If she asks him, he will save the plantation. He has a personal guard, a private militia of tough guys, heavily armed and well trained.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Based on the real life atrocities of 1994 Rwanda, this award winning drama stars Don Cheadle as a hotelier whose courage and endeavour helped save well over a thousand Rwandan citizens during a Genocide that claimed almost a million lives in a matter of months. Joaquin Phoenix and Jean Reno made up part of the strong cast in this critically-acclaimed, powerful drama.

Moolaade (2004)

This shocking drama tackles the issue of female circumcision, still prevalent in some parts of Africa today. When a village chooses to protect the girls due for the shocking and dangerous procedure from being operated on, she must withstand the consequences. Moolaade, meaning magical protection, was a double winner at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival in what proved to a great year for African based dramas with such films Hotel Rwanda and Yesterday also bring African issues to the fore.

Tsotsi (2005)

The 2006 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, South African based Tsotsi brilliantly shows a week in the life of a Johannesburg slum-dwelling teenager. Tsotsi is forced to change his selfish and destructive approach to life when he hijacks a car, shooting the driver in the process, only to find the wounded woman’s baby on the back seat. The film manages to convey the bleak and uncompromising struggles and realities of slum life, while at the same time creating a complex and believable lead character as Tsotsi becomes attached and empathetic towards the baby he inadvertently comes to care for.

The Constant Gardener (2005)

City of God director Fernando Meirelles made his English language debut with this adaptation of John le Carré’s novel. Ralph Fiennes stars as his British diplomat who uncovers a web of drug company corruption when his wife his found dead, in a film which raises important and timely issues about the way Western corporation exploit Africa.

Blood Diamond (2006)

Robert Zwick’s 2006 5 times Oscar nominated movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as former soldier - turned dealer in conflict diamonds, Danny Archer. Archer’s pursuit of valuable diamonds sees him link up with village man Solomon Vardy, played by Djimon Hounsou, whose search for his son brings him up against the rebels that took him and ravaged his village. The film manages to tackle a controversial issue whilst maintaining an exciting plot brought to life through solid performances.

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in this powerful drama. The genius of the film is that we see everything from the point of view of naive British doctor James MaAvoy. Like MacAvoy, we are charmed by the by eccentric Amin, and when we discover the atrocities he is responsible for it is even more shocking.

Goodbye Bafana (2007)

Dennis Haysbert and Joseph Fiennes starred in this tale of the relationship between Nelson Mandela and his prison guard James Gregory, based on Gregory’s memoirs. There has been some controversy over how well Gregory actually knew Mandela, but it’s stirring, inspiring stuff none the less, with great performances all round.

District 9 (2009)

Neill Blomkamp was handed picked by Peter Jackson to direct the big budget adaptation of hit videogame Halo, but when that fell apart he instead made this modern sci-fi classic about aliens being ushered into ghettos in Johannesburg. The political metaphors are clear for all to see, but it’s also a cracking action film to boot.

Invictus (2009)

Clint Eastwood directed this adaptation of John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy which detailed how the 1995 Rugby World Cup brought South Africa together after the apartheid. Morgan Freedman is superb as Nelson Mandela, though there is some very clumsy exposition of the rules of rugby shoehorned in for American audiences.

White Material (2010)

Directed by Claire Denis, White Material stars Isabelle Hupert as Maria, the owner of a coffee plantation, who refuses to abandon her harvest amid growing tensions between the army and the rebels that rove the African countryside. Just like her father-in-law and her ex-husband (Christophe Lambert), who is also the father of her son, she is convinced that Cherif, mayor of the neighbouring town, will protect them. If she asks him, he will save the plantation. Isabelle Huppert was nominated for a Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival for her captivating performance in this both beautiful and stirring film.


White Material is released on DVD & Blu-ray December 6th