OVID Takes Us To Niger: Our Review of ‘Zinder’

Posted in What's Streaming? by - July 09, 2024
OVID Takes Us To Niger: Our Review of ‘Zinder’

In the Kara-Kara district of Zinder in Niger, the Palais Hitler – they don’t know who he is – hold tryouts. Like any gang or ‘palais,’ Palais Hitler has some standards on men they’ll admit to their ranks. The standard is how strong one looks when they bench press, making me feel like Zinder is mocking me. A candidate’s prowess is enough for admission, but life in the gang, or in Zinder, is not easy. The documentary interviews the diverse gang and those within the circle of people with few choices in life.

Life in the titular city of Zinder gives these Hausa men like Bawo a sense of community and thus, levity, but the documentary snaps its viewers back to reality as it shows a few of the citizens’ income source. Most of these men are in the gas trade, as they smuggle oil from their neighbours in Nigeria. There are some who break gender rules, but it’s either that or women who dabble in sex work. Both lines of work are precarious and under scrutiny from a government that doesn’t give them viable alternatives.

Through this documentary, director Aicha Macky shows that the gang has a complex ecosystem with key players making moves. One of those players is Ramsess, an intersex person who checks on the district’s women and their goats. After those checkups, Zinder shows Ramsess saying goodbye and telling that they’re going to the border for gas. The documentary’s treatment of Ramsess is fair and there are nuances here but some aspects need further explanation. But  perhaps Ramsess says it best, that they have bigger problems outside of others making fun of them.

In showing the district, Zinder gives its viewers a mix of emotions, almost barely surviving its first scenes. That scene of the gang members flashing their muscles while talking about Hitler being undefeated is a big hurdle. The same goes when Macky shifts her gaze towards the sex workers, silhouettes with scarves smoking their cigarettes. A lot of these images are ad hoc cool, that element inherently exposing this documentary as performance for outsiders. Macky did grow up in this district but that doesn’t mean she’s immune from the coloniser’s reductive gaze.

That reductive feel that Zinder gives off thankfully wears out as it returns to showing aspects of Zinder’s community. These men aren’t just gang members, the documentary reminds us, they’re also men supporting their many children. There’s a scene where Bawo children come to him, asking him for money so that they can buy candy. He replies with jokes about certain candies killing kids and asking them why they want something dangerous. Most viewers know intrinsically of everyone’s humanity and this documentary uniquely reminds us that that’s true wherever one goes.

Watch Zinder on OVID.

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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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