Africa Day commemorates the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, and it's coming up this Tuesday, 25 May 2021. While pan-African travel remains a distant dream for now, it's never been easier to explore our beautiful continent, thanks to Showmax's catalogue of record-breaking and award-winning local content. There's no single story that captures the diversity and wonder of Africa, but whatever you're in the mood for, Showmax has a movie or a show for you:
NOUGHTS + CROSSES S1 | Alternative history series
Noughts + Crosses was named one of "the 10 best British TV shows of 2020" by Mashable, who called it, "crucially important... a kind of drama/thriller/romance hybrid, mixing Game of Thrones-style political backstabbing with a very human story of discrimination and systemic oppression. The end result? A stunningly-crafted epic that's every bit as tense as it is impactful."
South African Masali Baduza (Trackers) and BAFTA winner Jack Rowan (Born To Kill, Peaky Blinders) play Sephy and Callum, two star-crossed lovers in the tradition of Romeo and Juliet, in an alternate universe where Africa colonised Europe, rather than the other way round.
Based on Malorie Blackman's multi-award-winning novel and shot largely in Cape Town with Film Afrika, the series also stars South African actress Bonnie Mbuli (Invictus, Wallander) as Sephy's mom, Jasmine. Koby Adom - who is from Ghana, was born in Cote d'Ivoire, and grew up in London - is one of the two directors, while South African costume designer Dihantus Engelbrecht earned a Costume Design – Drama nomination from the 2020 Royal Television Society Awards in the UK for his work on the show.
YVONNE ORJI: MOMMA, I MADE IT! | Nigerian comedy special
In her first HBO comedy special, Nigeria's Yvonne Orji, better known as Molly from Insecure, has the audience rolling with laughter as she brings her razor-sharp wit and confidence to the stage. Both celebrating and poking fun at her strict, formative Nigerian-American upbringing, Yvonne shares her unique journey from pre-med to comedy, talks about parental pressures to get married, and takes us along to Lagos to meet her family and friends.
Entertainment Weekly calls Momma, I Made It! "an hour of joy", IndieWire hails it as "a rip-roaring standup special," and Fast Company says it's "the laugh the black community needs right now."
In 2020, Yvonne also recently earned her first Emmy nomination and her fourth Black Reel nomination in a row as Molly in Insecure, while Momma, I Made It was nominated for a 2021 Image Award for Outstanding Variety Show (Series or Special).
IS'THUNZI | South African teen drama
South Africa's Thuso Mbedu is making headlines globally right now as the star of The Underground Railroad, an adaptation of Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, directed by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk). Even Oprah is a fan, saying on Instagram that, "@thuso.mbedu gives the performance of a lifetime. Great things are coming for her and everyone will be saying her name after watching her as the superhero that is Cora."
But celebrating Thuso Mbedu is stating the obvious for Mzansi Magic fans, who've already seen her earn back-to-back Best Actress nominations at the International Emmy Awards in 2017 and 2018 for her role as Winnie in the isiZulu teen drama Is'thunzi. The show also picked up South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) for Best Actress and Actor for Mbedu and S'Dumo Mtshali (Isibaya, iNumber Number) respectively, not to mention nominations for the all-star cast of Pallance Dladla (DAM, Shadow), Thulane Shange (Uzalo, iNumber Number), and Zikhona Bali (DiepCity).
So, if you've been sleeping on Mbedu, rather than wait for her next starring role, opposite Oscar winner Viola Davis (Fences, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) in The Woman King, jump into her back catalogue on Showmax, which also includes roles on Isibaya S3 and MTV Shuga: Down South S2.
RAFIKI | Kenyan romance
Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki was named Outstanding Film - Limited Release at the 2020 GLAAD Media Awards, which recognise and honour media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and the issues that affect their lives. Rafiki beat out the likes of Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory, nominated for both Oscars and Golden Globes; 2020 Golden Globe and BAFTA nominee Portrait of A Lady On Fire; Sundance audience award winner Brittany Runs a Marathon; and South African favourite Kanarie, starring Schalk Bezuidenhout.
"Good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives," but Kena (Samantha Mugatsia, who won Best Actress at Carthage 2018 and FESPACO 2019 for the role) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) long for something more. When love blossoms between them, the two girls are forced to choose between happiness and safety.
Winner of 17 international awards, the Kenyan romance has a 93% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Variety calling it "impossible not to celebrate"; RogerEbert.com "a lyrical ode to finding a kindred spirit amidst an uncaring majority"; AV Club "bursting with life"; and Washington Post "a small revelation, not least because it marks the breakthrough of a filmmaker of such exhilarating, cheerfully courageous vision."
LIYANA | Kingdom of Eswatini documentary
Winner of 35 awards, Liyana is a genre-defying documentary that tells the story of five children in the Kingdom of Eswatini who, with some guidance from South African storyteller Gcina Mhlope, turn past trauma into an original fable about a girl named Liyana, who embarks on a perilous quest to save her young twin brothers. The film weaves Liyana's animated journey together with poetic documentary scenes to create an inspiring tale of perseverance and hope.
Liyana is the directorial debut of Swaziland-born and raised Aaron Kopp, with his wife Amanda. Before moving into directing, Aaron shot the Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face and the Oscar-nominated The Hunting Ground.
Liyana is executive produced by Emmy winner Thandiwe Newton (Westworld), produced by Oscar winner Daniel Junge (Saving Face), and edited by Davis Coombe (Chasing Coral, Chasing Ice). Nigerian Shofela Coker created the stunning animated artwork, while South African Philip Miller composed the score.
Entertainment Weekly hailed Liyana as "Gorgeous. Unlike any documentary you've ever seen," while The Hollywood Reporter praised it as "A lyrical work, as bright and captivating as it is poignant."
I AM NOT A WITCH | Zambian satire
After a minor incident in her village, nine-year-old Shula is exiled to a travelling witch camp where she is told that if she tries to escape she will be transformed into a goat. As she navigates through her new life with her fellow witches and a government official who exploits her innocence for his own gain, she must decide whether to accept her fate or risk the consequences of seeking freedom.
Winner of 15 international awards, including the BAFTA for Best Debut for Zambian-born, Wales-raised director Rungano Nyoni, I Am Not A Witch has a 96% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As Variety put it, "It's rare and exhilarating that a new filmmaker arrives on the scene so sure of herself and so willing to take bold, counter-intuitive chances... Invigorating, intriguing and provocative." I Am Not A Witch is at #5 on The Guardian's list of The 20 Best African Films, Ranked.
Nyoni was inspired by a spate of witch accusations aimed at women, which took place over a particularly dry summer in Zambia, and by her month-long stay at a 200-year-old witch camp in Ghana.
THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM | Lesotho-set drama
Atang (Zenzo Ngqobe from The River, Tsotsi) returns to a mountain village in Lesotho to bury his father. Expecting to return to the city quickly, he instead befriends an orphan herd-boy, is stirred by memories of his youth, and falls for a childhood friend, Dineo (Nozipho Nkelemba).
The Forgotten Kingdom won 15 international awards, including seven Audience Awards from American festivals, and Best Cinematography, Sound and Child Actor (Lebohang Ntsane) at the Africa Movie Academy Awards, where it earned another six nominations, including Best Film and Best Actor for Nqobe.
The Guardian called The Forgotten Kingdom a "pleasingly cinematic mini epic... combines classic realism with colourful characters, breath-taking vistas and a light dusting of the supernatural" while Radio Times, in their four-star review, praised the film as "heartfelt and touching... so genuine it's hard to resist."
LA NOIRE DE... (BLACK GIRL) | Senegalese drama
Ousmane Sembène's debut 1966 film, La Noire De... (Black Girl), is the story of a young Senegalese woman who is employed as a governess for a French family in Dakar and moves with them to the Riviera, where her comfortable duties as a nanny in a wealthy household are replaced by the drudgery and indignities of a maid.
Black Girl won the Tanit d'Or at Carthage in 1966, among other prizes, and was hailed by Oscar winner Martin Scorcese (The Irishman) as "an astonishing movie." It's at #3 on both the Tarifa-Tangiers African Film Festival's list of the 10 best African films of all time and The Guardian's list of The 20 Best African Films, Ranked.
Black Girl has a 97% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Village Voice saying its "dense with cold fury" and NPR adding that the film "feels as timely today as it did half a century ago."
Showmax is also home to Sembène's Cannes winner Mooladé, his Venice winner Camp De Thiaroye; and his Berlin winner Emitaï.
CAIRO STATION | Egyptian crime film
In the 1958 classic Cairo Station, Youssef Chahine both directs and stars as Qinawi, a crippled newspaper vendor who falls for a lemonade seller, Hanouma, who is engaged to another station worker, Abu-Serih. As Abu-Serih tries to unionise the station workers, Qinawi's fixation on Hanouma crosses the line from innocent crush to dangerous obsession.
Cairo Station screened in competition at Berlin and was included in The Story of Film, the definitive history of cinema, while Chahine went on to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from Cannes in 1997. The movie has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Time Out praised it as "a great overlooked masterpiece", The Guardian as "unmissable", The Hollywood Reporter as "a jewel of a film" and BBC as "an excellent thriller, and one that anticipates the serial killer genre that Hitchcock's Psycho kick-started a few years later... a cinematic triumph."
It's at #4 on both The Guardian's list of The 20 Best African Films, Ranked and Taste of Cinema's list of 20 Essential African Films You Need To Watch. Showmax is also home to Chahine's Alexandria Why?, which took home the Special Jury Prize and the C.I.D.A.L.C. Diploma at Berlin in 1979.
YAABA (GRANDMOTHER) | Burkina Faso drama
Late Burkina Faso filmmaker Idrissa Ouedraogo – hailed by Variety as "a towering figure of African cinema" - came to international attention in 1989 with Yaaba (Grandmother), the story of two children who make friends with an old woman who has been outcast as a witch by her village.
At Cannes that year, Yaaba shared the FIPRESCI Critics' Prize with Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape and also took a Special Mention from the Ecumenical Jury. Yaaba has an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Los Angeles Times saying, "Yaaba's power sneaks up on you... Flawless... Told in terms of the greatest elegance and simplicity."
Yaaba is at #12 on both The Guardian's list of The 20 Best African Films Ranked and Taste of Cinema's list of 20 Essential African Films You Need To Watch.