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  • Writer's pictureNnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

The Tree of Life and the Fate of the Brave Ones

African spirituality and history have often been misrepresented on the big screens. And sometimes, when the producers have a lot of money, they make it appear beautiful and credible. For example, this September, two films were released celebrating African heritage. One was extensively publicized, and the other was not.

Curiously, the one publicized is either a whitewashed history of an ancient African kingdom or its producers sacrificed the true story at the altar of goddess feminism. In this era of me-too, it is crucial to highlight that goddess feminism is a radical derivative of sacred feminism, initially intended to correct the errors of the patriarchy.

In that much-marketed movie, instead of presenting the facts as they are or accepting that behind this long-celebrated African heroine story are centuries of fratricide and slave trade, we were sold a story of a generation of abolitionist female warriors.

And as one could imagine, with the big names involved, the film is financially breaking records.

Therefore, to justify this historical inaccuracy, the producers tell us that it’s not a documentary but an edutainment. Whatever the education part does in the edutainment is left to our imaginations.

But let’s not rush to condemn the movie, for the entertainment industry has a long history of whitewashing history. It has always been based on the storyline of the producers and those who finance the initiative. Nevertheless, fictional movies contain some truths, even though they often exaggerate the entertainment aspect sending history students to scavenge for documentary movies if they are not happy with the anarchy of entertainment in their edutainment saga.

However, in this text, I’m not only interested in the historical accuracy of these African big-screen stories. Instead, I’m here to appreciate another movie that merits some accolade and enormous publicity.

There are three worlds: The world of the living, the world of the unborn and the world of the dead.”

In these words begins another African big-screen story celebrating feminism, African history and spirituality. The South African Netflix series, The Brave Ones, might not be a huge box-office hit or aired in big theatres. Still, families will appreciate this fictional series celebrating South African cosmogony and sacred feminism.

The story is a beautiful intricacy of family, love, spirituality, development, life, death, and ancestral spirits’ eternal power. It’s indeed a coming out of the dualism box in which African civilization has been enmeshed. Though the producer moves between magical realism and fantasy, the fiction tells a story of the holistic nature of the African worldview.

In The Brave Ones, the director, Akin Omotoso presents a young woman who navigates between her messed-up social status and her new spiritual power.

In her effort to end her former involvement with the local gang, Ntsiki, the protagonist, faces rejection, heartbreak and even the loss of her only supposed sister.

And as things get worse, she discovers that she might be a reincarnated goddess entrusted with the protection of the Tree of Life. The major problem is that this comes with more power and responsibility than she ever expected. It also opens more doors than she was prepared to peep into. Is she ready for the task ahead? The everyday event in her shanty neighborhood might be the litmus test for this young, unprepared heroine.

In between time, developers kept pushing forward, and every step the demolishing bulldozer makes quenches the dying light blinkering in the heart of the mythical Tree of Life.

Neither Akin Omotoso nor Sthandile Nkosi is a great name in the Hollywood quarters. So maybe The Brave Ones might not win any Oscar awards. Still, history should not forget this series in haste. The pictures and sound are great, but they might not compete with the highly financed movie I referred to earlier. Yet even though I have some reservations, it nevertheless won my heart for bringing to light the power of our ancestral spirits.

Arguably, Omotoso did a great job by not painting the sacred priests and priestesses as the perfect social and moral guides we often see on the screen. Yet, I think he did not also do much justice to those exceptional indigenous spiritual leaders we have in our societies. Not even one appears to distance himself or herself from the vicious circle and power intoxication we observed therein. Certainly, I agree that he resurrected our African cultural and spiritual values but painting them with the same crayon made him fall for the colonized mentality that smoothly affects how we tell our sacred stories.

Let me know what you think about the two movies in question. Can you guess the name of the first one? Have you watched any of the two? What do you think about my commentary on how Omotoso presented our ancestral spirits and their agents?

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