Of the six Sub-Saharan African submissions, the buzziest titles include Somalia’s first-ever entry, “The Gravedigger’s Wife” from feature debutant Khadar Ayderus Ahmed and Chad’s Cannes competitor, “Lingui: The Sacred Bonds” from veteran helmer Mahamet-Saleh Haroun.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s dysfunctional family dramedy “Barakat” from Amy Jephta earns points for likeability although it represents a genre not usually awarded by the Academy. Nevertheless, the tale of a family feud developing when the clan matriarch decides to take a second chance on love is a universally relatable one.
“The Gravedigger’s Wife” arri-ves at the Academy screenings trailing the top prize from Fespaco, Africa’s largest film festival. Mogadishu-born director-writer Ahmed came to Finland as a refugee at the age of 16 and returned to his African roots for his first feature, which is both a touching love story and a tragedy of social injustice about a poor man trying to get treatment for his ailing wife. It’s set in Djibouti, where Somali is the language spoken by the majority of the population.
Like “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” Chad’s “Lingui” also centers on the need for an operation, but the procedure sought is an abortion and it isn’t just poverty standing in the characters’ way; it’s also religion, law and the patriarchal society.
The remaining three entries lack prestige fest credentials and name recognition. Kenya’s action thriller “Mission to Rescue” from Gilbert Lukalia follows a team of Special Operations Forces soldiers assigned to rescue high profile administrators kidnapped by the Al-Shabaab militia. Malawi’s drama “Fatsani – A Tale of Survival” from Gift Sukez Sukali follows a young girl forced to sell bananas on the street after her school is shut down. And late entry “Hidden Dreams” from Cameroon’s Ngang Romanus is set in a traditional village during 1980s, but may have too much English dialogue to qualify.