Whitby Film Society
I Am Not a Witch
2017, Director – Rungano Nyoni
2018 BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer
In this daringly satirical parable of magic and misogyny, superstition and social strictures, a nine-year-old girl in a remote Zambian village is accused of being a witch and given a stark choice: to accept her supernatural branding and live a tethered life as a sorceress, or to cut her ties with local tradition and be transformed into a goat that may be killed and eaten for supper. The young heroine is sent to the local “witch camp”, an enslaved tourist attraction. Here, the women offer a sense of community and protection to the all-but-silent newcomer, whom they name Shula (“it means ‘to be uprooted’”). But when government official Mr Banda declares that “you are my little witch now”, a strange form of celebrity looms. Soon, Shula is being paraded around local courts and TV stations, dispensing divine justice and hawking magical eggs – all for the profit of her garrulous keeper. “What if she’s actually just a child?” asks the presenter of the Smooth Talk chat-show, a question that is met with stony silence from her “state guardian”.
Although the story was apparently inspired by real-life reports of witchcraft accusations in Zambia, I Am Not a Witch is also a work of fairytale invention, a bewilderingly strange yet terrifically sure-footed feature debut from writer-director Rungano Nyoni.