Binaries: Our Review of ‘Mami Wata’ on MUBI

Posted in What's Streaming? by - March 21, 2024
Binaries: Our Review of ‘Mami Wata’ on MUBI

C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s Mami Wata graced the screens of festivals like Sundance and Fantasia and is coming to MUBI. The title refers to a folk goddess that still has worshippers in communities in African countries like Nigeria. One of those fictional communities is Iyi, where Mami Wata’s priestess, Mama Efe (Rita Edochie), is losing her touch. Her waning power coincides with the entrance of Jasper (Emeka Amakeze), a Christian-ish rebel who questions Mami Wata. He takes over, kills Efe and tries to do the same to her adopted daughter Zinwe (Uzoamaka Aniunoh). This also causes Efe’s daughter Prisca (Evelyne Ily Juhen), gathering her strength, figuring out how to take back Iyi.

This is not a perfect film, but there are at least one or two scenes here that may make viewers realise cinema’s full potential – it’s as if Melies invented cinema for others to capture a woman having an orgasm. The indelible images here also make sense as part of MUBI’s catalogue, that streamer’s branding being like “Criterion but hot”. But let’s get back to the serious matters here, because Prisca’s sexual awakening comes with some give and take. Once again, the man giving her said orgasm is also responsible for upending her supposedly insular community. Relationships among Mami Wata’s characters also complicate their places within supposed binaries a la Frantz Fanon.

The first time I read about Mami Wata is actually through my friend Thomas’ nuanced yet scathing review of it. The anti vaxxer interpretation here is understandable, but a lot of things happen before and after the vaccine subplot. It’s kind of like real life, but this review is not the time and place to discuss Big Pharma (pro vaxx here, duh). If anything, this actually feels like a Global South take on witch trials. I apologise for viewing it within Western references but that’s most of what I have to compare this too. After all, Jasper throwing Zinwe to the water IS reminiscent of what men did after accusing women of witchcraft.

Efe is a subject matter whom Jasper and Prisca discussed during their peaceful and, of course, romantic era. “People like stories that make them believe,” Prisca tells Jasper, and that story can either be Mami Wata or militarization. A more valid critique of this film is that it uses its black and white cinematography as a way to hide its crunch. There are also C-plots here that Obasi tacks on, like the romance between Zinwe and a man who escapes Jasper. The acting isn’t as bad as what other critics say, but that fifth act does have that bad training scene. That said, the lyricism here makes this one of the good entries into the indie Nollywood canon.

Again, watch Mami Wata exclusively on MUBI.

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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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