Imani: A Truly Modern, Ugandan ‘Slice of Life’ Film

By Monica Obaga,

Imani is a heartfelt drama following three very different Ugandans: a maid, break-dancer and former child soldier.

The maid, Mary, works at a wealthy woman’s home, to support a family including a young son and a sister who is in danger from an abusive husband. Mary is an independent working girl, a bread winner. Her home-owning, kick boxing female boss represents modern femininity, and yet Mary kneels to receive pocket change for charcoal. When her sister is arrested for defending herself against her violent, physically abusive husband, Mary’s independence is tested.

The breakdancer, Armstrong, is a community organizer, helping to get young boys off the streets and give hope through dance. A childhood friend now antagonist runs the local crime syndicate. Their paying off ways may threaten the future of his work. They both grew up in the streets. He is not making much money but doing good for the community. His former friend has made himself rich at the cost of the community.

The former child soldier, Olweny, is traumatized and barely says a word thought the film. In a rare occurrence, his family is found and are eager to be reunited, while he is not quite ready. He seems broken from his previous life but has a home to go to. Everyone says he should be happy. His best friend is jolly and eager to move on but has no one.

There are high stakes, with each of the three having to make choices that may have disastrous consequences. The simple, believable acting that was another key to the layered, emotionally compelling story.

Tonally, the relaxed pacing and the beautiful music juxtapose the high-stakes drama to create a well rounded viewing experience. A particularly beautiful acoustic cover of Porgy and Bess showtune ‘Summertime’, sung in Swahili, creates an almost surreal mood.

The director and writer, Carolyn and Agnes Kamya paint a clear-eyed but sympathetic, insider, picture of life in Uganda after the LRA and Idi Amin. In this new Uganda, things seem calm and orderly. Everyone has moved on and everything is fine. A newspaper’s front page headline boasts ‘368 days of peace in Uganda,’ and is swiftly used to light a domestic fire.

There are small victories but no happy endings. This is a truly modern, slice of life film, that honors victims and survivors of war.

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