Once Shula decides to opt in on her new status as a witch — her other choice, according to those in charge, is to cut the ribbon and be turned into a goat — she’s embraced by the older women in the camp, who dote on her like a daughter/granddaughter. The affection and attention are nice, as is the status Shula earns when she’s taken to judge civil disputes and her decisions are taken seriously. But she must also face scorn, hostility, and disgust from the locals (and intrusive curiosity from visiting tourists), which ultimately outweigh the positive aspects of the witches’ community.
Viewed by Nyoni as a fairy tale, I Am Not a Witch nevertheless is based on the existence of actual witch camps in Africa; Nyoni, who was born in Zambia before moving to Wales as a young child, stayed in one in Ghana for a month that has been operating for more than 200 years. It’s clear that her research informed the film, which is richly observed and beautifully detailed.
It’s also gorgeously filmed and full of realistic, lived-in performances, especially Mulubwa’s; her Shula is simultaneously defiant and vulnerable — every inch an old soul in a young body. I Am Not a Witch raises compelling questions about superstition and fear of “the other” and how they can lead to women being blamed for misfortune even in societies that value women and in many ways view them as equal to men.
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