In addition to portraying Katende in Queen of Katwe, Oyelowo also plays Seretse Khama in Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom. In that film, he teams with Rosamund Pike to tell the true story of an African prince who falls in love with and eventually marries a white British commoner. The actor praised both Katwe director Mira Nair (who has lived in Uganda for more than two decades) and Asante for bringing upbeat, aspirational stories “about the continent of Africa” to the big screen. “Africa isn’t a country,” the actor insists wryly, evidencing good humor but just the right amount of exasperation when relating how friends and colleagues tell him to look out for wild animals when he returns to Nigeria. “I’ve actually never seen a lion in Lagos,” he says. The continent contains a wide diversity of people with different customs, histories, and experiences. Through film, paradoxically, we learn just how different people in Africa are from one another even as we come to understand how similar their challenges, hopes, and dreams are to our own.
Perhaps no film at the Toronto International Film Festival better illustrates that point than ’76, a Nigerian production that tells the story of a soldier accused of being involved in a failed military coup and the stress this places on his marriage. Nollywood films have a high profile at the festival, since Lagos was selected as the subject of TIFF’s annual City to City program. Izu Ojukwu’s film is suprisingly accessible, reminisicent of such Hollywood thrillers as Valkyrie and No Way Out. For viewers willing to expand their exposure to world cinema beyond familar stars playing African heads of state, ’76 is an excellent place to start: a dramatic story told by Africans about their own history and from their own point of view.
Queen of Katwe opens in American theaters on September 30. A United Kingdom opens in the UK on November 25 but does not yet have an American premiere date. ’76 also premieres on November 25 in Nigeria after a stop in October at the London Film Festival.
Kenneth R. Morefield (@kenmorefield) is an associate professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I, II, & III, and the founder of 1More Film Blog.