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Movies and Documentaries About Africa

Top 10 Films about Africa

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This top 10 African movie list reflects my personal taste. It's not easy coming up with a shortlist of best African films like this. I really loved District 9 and Invictus, for example, but haven't the heart to replace what's on the list. Please share your favorite African movie with us!

Of course, there are lots of African movies made each year that we don't get to see. If you're a fan of Nollywood, Nigeria's booming film industry, check out iROKOtv.com for the latest releases. For more serious fare and classic African movies, a new web site launched where you can rent movies for just $5, it's called The African Film Library.

1. Cry Freetown (1999)

An incredible documentary by Sorious Samura which informed the world about the terrible civil war taking place in Sierra Leone in 1999. If you enjoyed Blood Diamond then you should see this documentary as well.

Samura followed up Cry Freetown with Return to Freetown where he follows the plight of 3 child soldiers and helps them return to their families. Samura has also made several more excellent documentaries, I loved Exodus which follows the story of Africans from sub-Saharan Africa who risk everything to seek employment in Europe.

2. Tsotsi (2005)

Tsotsi
© www.tsotsi.com
Tsotsi is set in Soweto, one of South Africa's notoriously crime-ridden townships just outside of Johannesburg. Tsotsi (which means "thug" in township patois) is the name of the central character, an orphan, played by Presley Chweneyagae. He's a troubled teenager who steals a car and inadvertently ends up having to look after the young baby that was still in it.

The film won an oscar for best foreign movie. What is so remarkable is the fact that the main actors themselves were living in corrugated shacks in Soweto until very recently. South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper reports that Terry Pheto and Presley Chweneyagae were cast based on their performances in a theatre group in Soweto.

3. Battle of Algiers (1965)

A riveting movie documenting the battle for independence in Algeria during the 1950's. Not for the feint of heart but very interesting and thought provoking. The film was banned in France for 5 years after its release.

The movie has been revisited by many since the start of the Iraq war, and for some people watching, the parallels that can be drawn are quite disconcerting.

4. Blood Diamond (2006)

Blood Diamond
© Warner Brothers
For a big Hollywood movie, Blood Diamond is surprisingly gritty and real, even Leonardo DiCaprio's South African accent is spot on. The movie is set in Sierra Leone during the chaotic 1990's when the country was in the midst of a civil war. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a South African mercenary who teams up with Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) a local fisherman looking for his son who has been abducted by rebels. The two are looking for a diamond that will change their lives for ever. They are followed by an American reporter (Jennifer Connelly) trying to tell the story about conflict diamonds and the part they have played in fuelling one of the most brutal civil wars the world has ever seen. This is a movie that won't disappoint.

5. Constant Gardener (2005)

The Constant Gardener is about a recent widow who searches for the reasons behind his young wife's murder. The film is set in Kenya and is based on a novel by John le Carre. It's a murder mystery involving corrupt pharmaceutical companies trying to use poor Africans as guinea pigs for their latest drugs, and British diplomats turning a blind eye in order to save face. The main actors Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Hubert Koundé and Bill Nighy are all excellent.

Much of the filming was done on location in Kenya including the large slum, Kibera, just outside the capital Nairobi. If you plan on visiting Kenya you may not get to see the slums, so it's good to at least realise that this is how many people live.

6. African Queen (1951)

The African Queen is a classic adventure featuring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, directed by John Huston. Filmed on location in Uganda and the Congo, the movie is about a drunken riverboat captain (Bogart) who takes a missionary spinster (Hepburn) on board his boat and much adventure and banter ensues.

The movie was based on a fictional novel The African Queen (1935) by C.S. Forester and is loosely based on fact concerning the British and German engagement on Lake Tanganyika during the First World War. While the original gunboats are no longer running on Lake Tanganyika, there is an old German Steamer you can take to this day and enjoy your own African Queen experience.

7. Guelwaar (1993)

A beautiful movie written and directed by Ousmane Sembene one of Africa's best film makers. Set in Senegal, this murder mystery unfolds around the death of a district leader whose family gathers for the funeral.

Sambene influenced a lot of West African film makers, if you've seen the excellent recent movie Bamako you'll recognize his style of story-telling immediately.

8. The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Idi Amin with his children (Forest Whitaker in Last King of Scotland)
© Fox Searchlight
The Last King of Scotland is a movie about a young doctor working in Uganda who finds himself unwittingly picked as the personal physician to one of the world's most brutal dictators, Idi Amin. Forest Whitaker plays Idi Amin and he won a best acting oscar for his incredible performance.

The movie was filmed on location in Uganda so if you're planning to travel in that part of Africa, it's worth watching just to get a feel of the countryside. Of course Uganda is now at peace and Idi Amin and his equally brutal successor, Milton Obote, are distant memories.

9. Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Hotel Rwanda movie poster
© United Artists
Don Cheadle is excellent in this movie which is based on the true story of the remarkable Paul Rusesabinga, a hotel manager, who saved hundreds of lives in the midst of genocide. Anyone traveling to Rwanda should read up on the genocide and try and get a better understanding of what exactly happened.

If you want to know more, an excellent book to read is We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch.

If you're not a reader, then the BBC has an informative page on Rwanda: How the genocide happened

10. Out of Africa (1985)

If you are planning an East African safari and you want to get in the mood, this is a good movie to watch. The scenery is spectacular, the acting is great (Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) and it's very romantic. This movie has proved to be one of Kenya's most effective marketing tools.
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