Africa Now: Our Review of ‘Supa Modo’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 04, 2019
Africa Now: Our Review of ‘Supa Modo’

Africa Now is a series giving a spotlight on emerging African directors. The institute releasing this program is Goethe Films. Since that’s the case, I’m predicting that most of these movies will tackle how that art form reaches global audiences. And what a better way to start the series than with Supa Modo. It’s about the titular superhero persona of Joanna or Jo (Stycie Waweru), a Kenyan child with cancer. Director Likarion Wainaina is astute in incorporating the stories of Jo’s family. They are important to her well being and they have conflicting ideas on how to take care of her.

Jo’s mother Kathryn (Marianne Nungo) quit her job as the town midwife to give the former home care. The home part means that she doesn’t leave the home. That’s not going to stop the strong willed Jo, and besides, her student sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia) encourages her stubbornness. Jo sneaks out to Mike’s (Johnson Gitau Chege) establishment, which shows both real and adult movies. But something strange happens during one of these outings. It’s typical for children to believe they have superpowers but it’s as if Jo actually has them. Supa Modo can manipulate objects to her advantage!

There’s one thing that Supa Modo does intelligently that even movies by masters don’t. And that’s to not show characters’ interior thoughts. The movie, instead, has characters echoing each other and using those ideas to their advantage. And Wainaina lets scenes those play out, like ones where Supa Modo stops a mugging. Mike knows what’s really up, tells Mwix that enabling Jo is a terrible idea, and Mwix replies that “what’s the harm in a little pretending”. Which is what Kathryn told Mwix in justifying her own omissions. She didn’t tell Jo about how bad her cancer is.

Eastern and Western movies are a big influence on Jo and her Kenyan village. But that doesn’t mean that this positions Africa as cinema’s passive consumer. As the film progresses it shows the African characters here build their own mythologies. The cinematography and the performances also figure heavy here, but its plot and structure are its biggest assets. Kathryn and Mwix’s ideas of caring for Jo reflect the way a community reacts to adversity. You try different ideas from other people, and maybe change your mind about doing things. You fall and get back up again, just like the community does in the end.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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