Sam Soko’s Softie is a film about its subject, Boniface ‘Softie’ Mwangi, demonstrating against the Kenyan oligarchy and showing the world for what that oligarchy really is. He is one of three major narrators here. Through him, the film gives its audience some context. He, as the kids say, throws shade at the British government, a government coming from a cold country to Kenya’s warm savannahs. And they needed to divide and conquer by organizing a caste system an assigning jobs for each tribe. His narration invalidates any of the lies and stereotypes that the British say about the tribes. Through him, we understand that the positive propaganda for, say the Kikuyu majority, mean something negative for the other tribes. That tribalism still exists in Kenya, a country that has freedoms for the few.
Mwangi breezes through that context succinctly to get to the task at hand. The rest of Softie‘s first act shows a ten year journey that a man, a family and a country take. Mwangi, in 2007, was a photographer who covered Kenya’s post election violence. Seeing the media’s indifference to atrocities, he quit photo journalism to become an activist. The next logical step, of course, is running for office, and doing so becomes a family affair. He and his family campaign for a whole year, which is an eye opening experience for both his family and us. He meets people who ask him for money in exchange of their votes, and the camera shows these peoples’ faces. They’re cynical towards the idea that someone like them can be an MP or be someone important.
Boniface’s wife Njeri also figures into this film, as they discuss the danger of him running for office. The film lets us hear voices of news anchors announcing the deaths of many activists like him. And as his campaign progresses, Njeri talks about the death threats she and her children receive because of Boniface’s work. Their discussion shows the futility of such work, whether his death will mean anything to a nation of tribes. The film gives us access to their moments, whether or not their discussions take place face to face or through video chats. These moments also show the precariousness of their situations. Boniface grew up in cramped housing and is able to give his family better furniture than some Westerners have, but all of that can disappear if he dies.
But while Boniface is alive, his political will is present and he keeps on fighting. A third major subject is his campaign manager, Khadija Mohammed, and she calls him out whenever she sees that they’re not ding enough to raise awareness about his candidacy. Partly through her, this film becomes one about the streets of the constituency where he was running, Starehe in Nairobi. Because he has no posters he chooses to spray paint his face on the streets. He reminds people that there is an option outside of the two major parties. This is normally a film of faces of its subjects in movement, but Nairobi’s empty streets at night figure here too. The film captures these streets, whether populated or empty, as brimming with energy, patiently moving towards some real political change.
Our American readers can watch Softie in select theaters.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: documentary, Drama
- Release Date: 9/19/2020
- Directed by: Sam Soko
- Produced by: Sam Soko, Toni Kamau
- Studio: Eye Steel Film, LBx Africa, We Are Not the Machine
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