Stream it—Speculative Africa

Chris Stults, Associate Curator, Film/Video

Mar 19, 2020

Images from the Wexner Center for the Arts film series Speculative Africa

Since an audience isn’t able to gather at the Wexner Center for films and art at the moment, here’s an attempt to bring the Wexner Center’s programming to you in a format that allows for social distancing!

We had been talking with the author Namwali Serpell for months about curating a series of films that we could present at the Wexner Center in conjunction with the paperback release of her debut novel The Old Drift. This weekend we had planned on presenting a series that Serpell developed called Speculative Africa.

Here’s how Serpell described the series: 

"Witches, djinns, cyborgs, rockets—all from a once and future Africa. Speculative Africa showcases a set of recent films from Senegal, Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, and Ethiopia that engage with the otherworldly: alternative histories, future realities, perceptual distortions, supernatural forces, outer space. Encompassing genres from Afrofuturism to surrealism to zombie flick, these films bend representation. They warp both the reality effect of the camera and the demand to represent the ‘real’ Africa—or its stereotyped mythology. Mocking this anthropological gaze, the films of Speculative Africa instead invoke the roots of ‘speculate: to imagine, to risk, to look otherwise."

Luckily, all of the films that Serpell selected are readily available for home viewers, so you can have your own Speculative Africa screening series at your own pace. It’s an eclectic mix of shorts and features, each with their own distinct tone.

We planned to have Serpell introduce the screening of Mati Diop’s Atlantics, one of the best films of 2019, so you can recreate that experience by reading her astute review of the film in The Nation.

Here’s where you can watch each of the films, along with our original screening listings for descriptions of each film.

I Am Not a Witch

Still from Rungano Nyoni's film I Am Not a Witch

Image courtesy of Film Movement

(Rungano Nyoni, Zambia, 2017)

This often humorous, slyly feminist debut feature tells the story of an eight-year-old Zambian girl accused of sorcery after a minor accident occurs in her presence. The child is sent to a “witch camp,” where similarly accused women in her region are held captive and forced to perform manual labor, act as tourist attractions, and even use their “power” as needed.

Watch it on Kanopy. (free with Columbus Metropolitan Library card and for Ohio State students, faculty, and staff)


Still from Mati Diop's film Atlantics

Image courtesy of Netflix

(Mati Diop, Senegal, 2019)

At 37, Mati Diop is already an accomplished actress (starring in Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum) and maker of short films. Her debut feature as director, Atlantics, ranks among the most exhilarating pictures of recent years. 

The drama follows Ada and Souleiman, a young couple in Dakar, who are separated when Souleiman crosses the ocean with friends. But instead of becoming the expected story about the plight of the contemporary refugee, the film stays with Ada, the woman left behind. From there, Atlantics becomes a genre-bending look at love beyond time while addressing nuanced issues of class, power, and gender.

Watch it on Netflix.


Still from Wanuri Kahiu's short film Pumzi

Image courtesy of the artist.

From the director of the acclaimed lesbian romance RafikiPumzi is Kenya’s first science fiction film. Set 35 years after a future world war fought over water, the film follows a botanist who strives to reach the “dead zone” with a plant that she’s been nurturing.

Watch it here:


Still from Miguel Llansó's film Crumbs

Image courtesy of IndiePix

(Miguel Llansó, 2015)

Set against stunning Ethiopian landscapes, Crumbs follows the postapocalyptic journey of a strange scrap collector, Gagano.

Alternately gripped by daydreams and constant anxiety, Gagano has had enough of scavenging through the crumbs of a decayed civilization to find such priceless relics as Michael Jordan merch and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys. When a long-dormant spaceship hovering overhead awakens, Gagano has to overcome his fears—as well as a witch, Santa Claus, and a latter-day Nazi—to discover things aren’t quite the way he thought. 

Watch it on Amazon.

Bonus material!

Still from Nuotama Bodomo's short film Afronauts

Image courtesy of the filmmaker

Here's an film that wasn’t able to fit into our screening series but ties into the series (and beautifully relates to Serpell’s novel The Old Drift):

Afronauts (Nuotama Bodomo, 2014)

Also, our March Box program, Diop's 2009 documentary short Atlantiques, is available to stream via Amazon and The Criterion Channel (subscription required; 14-day free trial available)