MALAWI – A new Malawian film, Netflix’s latest offering to raise the profile of African cinema, has caused a stir back home, facing accusations of mangling the language and relying on foreign actors.
“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, which launched on Netflix last Friday, is based on the true-life story of Malawian child inventor William Kamkwamba, who built a windmill to save his village from drought.
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Swiss-based Malawian critic Onjezani Kenani complained that “Malawians were never the target audience of this movie.”
The film, which won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for promoting science at this year’s Sundance Festival, is directed by and stars Oscar-nominated Nigerian-British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor in his directorial debut.
The film, set in 2001 and 2002, shows Kamkwamba as a young teenager aged around 13, scrambling around a dump looking for batteries so he can study at night when his family can no longer afford kerosene.
Inspired by his teacher’s bike dynamo and having found a pump at the tip, he sets about building a working windmill to extract water from the ground, using only an outdated book from his school’s library.
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It is the latest Netflix original filmed on the African continent and follows the success of “Catching Feelings”, a film directed by and starring South African artist Kagiso Lediga.
The platform also announced in December that it had commissioned a series of comedy specials from acclaimed African comics.
But “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” has received mixed reviews in Malawi for hardly using Malawian actors, with critics panning the cast for their poor attempts at speaking Malawi’s Chichewa language.