Recommended for anyone who loves children, Africa and football (aka soccer), and just anyone who genuinely cares
I watched this film when it first came out and, again, before writing this review. And it wasn’t just to refresh my memory – seeing it for the second time was just as enjoyable.
I should probably post a quick disclaimer right away that my friend, Emmanuel Jal, stars in Africa United, so the first time I watched it was partially to support his work and partially out of curiosity – I wanted to see what he was talking about so excitedly after every trip to the filming locations. I promise you I am not entirely biased toward the movie because it’s good to support your friends… (although it is ;)). But let me get to the gist of it.
The story follows five kids traveling thousands of miles by land from Rwanda to South Africa, to make it in time for the World Cup opening ceremony, where Fabrice, a 15-year-old football prodigy, is hoping to showcase his skills. “I don’t want to be a doctor in America. I want to play football in Africa,” says Fabrice when talking about his dream. The thrilling, dangerous and funny adventure leads the viewer through seven African countries, which the kids cross by cars, boats, buses and on foot. The group calls themselves a “team for the dream,” and that type of a hopeful, persistent spirit is what Africa United is all about – nothing is impossible.
“You need more than money to make a team, George. Look at Real Madrid,” – Dudu
Fabrice’s 13-year-old friend Dudu is his self-proclaimed manager, whose actions often cause more trouble than good, but who always has the group’s best interests at heart. Besides being very tactical and business-minded, Dudu is also a great story teller.
While Fabrice doesn’t share his mother’s dream of him becoming a doctor, Dudu’s sister Beatrice is the one who wants to go to medical school. “When I’m a doctor, I’ll find the cure,” she tells a woman on the bus, talking about HIV. AIDS is just one of the issues the movie incorporates into its storyline. Children orphaned by the disease, child soldiers, corruption and child prostitution are others, making Africa United a pretty heavy film, although intricately weaving these issues into the light, humorous storyline.
“He’s upset, and as a manager, you have to know how to handle that. Right now, he can’t see the wood for the peas,” says Dudu, crafting new idioms.
I personally have a soft spot for Beatrice – the girl is really smart and mature for her age, loves her brother to death and is extremely thirsty for knowledge – the quality that reminded me so much of my Kenyan students, kids just about her age, who wanted to study more than anything. It was one of her scenes that I teared up most about; I won’t give out any spoilers, but I’ll throw in a picture.
The child soldier references gave me a lot of chills as well. One of the kids in the group, Foreman George, is a former child soldier, who often grows distant and cold as his memories haunt him. The fact that Jal (Tulu) is waving his gun around might give you some chills, too, if you know of his own background as a child soldier. He plays a “funny” type of a villain, although the interaction between him and Foreman George and their common history are not so funny at all.
The last addition to the team, Celeste is a sex slave who gets her chance to escape once the group wreaks some havoc on her white owner’s property. She comes from a royal bloodline, but her family lost everything in war. Her choice was to either marry the only man in the village who could pay “the bride price” or six cows for her, or run away. Remember my post, Two Cows for a Childhood? These kinds of things just show you that everything in this movie, no matter how funny or strange or unbelievable it may sound, is based on reality, the African reality.
“The world is our ostrich,” – Dudu
You can see the Africa United trailer here and buy a DVD here, although it seems like they only have it in the Region 2 format. Still, you can easily watch it online here, starting at just £1. Check out the Africa United website to listen to the movie’s soundtrack and read some Behind the Scenes stories. And finally, you might want to know that 25% of the film’s net profits goes to the Comic Relief charity.
Give it a watch; you’ll be supporting a good cause and having a good laugh while at it. And if you are anything like me and burst into tears during every sentimental scene in every meaningful movie, then get your Kleenexes ready, too.
Credits: all images used in the post are from this gallery.