Black History Month: Softie
Black History Month | Panorama
"Softie" was his nickname as a child, but Boniface Mwangi is made of sterner stuff, as an opening sequence in which he unleashes a horde of pigs daubed in blood outside Kenya’s parliament makes clear. (They are "MPigs", he says, like the corrupt politicos within.) Mwangi had his political awakening in 2007, covering the violent aftermath of the 2007 Kenyan election as a news photographer. His images were shocking and vivid, but they revealed to him how his country still bore the brutal scars of colonial rule, with a political system that mimicked democracy but fostered tribalism and bribery. That’s when "Softie" decided to stand for Parliament - or "vye", as the Kenyans say - as an independent.
Sam Soko’s film - a prizewinner at Sundance 2020 - follows his unorthodox campaign, and details the numerous hurdles in his way, not least the very real threat of assassination. But it’s also, unusually, a film about Mwangi’s wife Njeri and their young children. Must an activist put his country before his family? Boni says yes, because if he can reform his country, his kids will benefit. Njeri is not so sure.
If the systemic problems facing Kenyan politics seem a long way off, recent tribulations in the United States should give us pause, and remind us that democracy requires men and women of courage and principle if it’s to truly serve the people.
"Softie the documentary really moved me. If you believe in governments for the people, by the people and of the people, this film is for you!" Lupita Nyong’o (author, actor, activist)
"Tremendous film." The Times
"Riveting… Eye-opening as Softie is as an immediate account of toxic Kenyan politics, it’s an equally moving marriage story, unsentimental but generously sympathetic in its study of a family brought to the brink of collapse for a greater good cause." Guy Lodge, Variety
Jury Award for Editing, Sundance 20; Best Documentary, Encounters Film Festival 20
Boniface Mwangi, Njeri Mwangi
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