THE POLITICS OF HARNESSING THE WIND: A REVIEW OF EJIOFOR’S ‘THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND’
By Esteemed ziliro Mchulu
It has received the most needed attention locally and internationally, not because it is a first Malawi Hollywood movie but because of its rich story and wonderful videography that has proved Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor as a gem in the game. With a team of talented and creative actors Ejiofor managed to bring the best from William Kamkwamba’s struggle to save his starving village and family from the wrath of drought and hunger that nearly wiped the village. While the prime purpose of the amazing, inspiring and heart-warming story is about harnessing the wind, the movie has more than just a mare presentation of what William did.
The main character William represents a number of Malawians who have ideas but lack exposure and resources to realise their potential. The movie represents those children who go to a school with few teachers, resources and they try to think outside the box but they are betrayed by the environment. Few succeed as William did. Unfortunately the urban side has a lot of good schools but it has more of memorising students than thinking and exploring ones. It has schools with good books and resources but we are yet to see an innovative idea from these so called high schools and conventional ones. Was that boy who made a community radio network from a high school? Where is he now? Was the boy who started an aeroplane but frustrated by these engineers from a high school? The small samples explains how the majority with resources are wasting them while those with few resources are struggling to bring the best from the limited environment.
The movies further exposes how unpatriotic some Malawians are. The scene where the Tobacco estates men come to buy trees from the locals exposes how Malawians sometimes sell this country ignorantly. The chief tried to pump sense to the locals but one misguided person started the betrayal and the land was gone. The act of signing and the deal of selnling trees symbolises the majority of Malawians who sell their country to god like beings who in the end show their true devilish colours. Selling trees which are fundamental to agriculture shows that some people don’t really care about this country. These people are not different from those who steal drugs in hospital and those who snip tax payer’s money. The chief’s stance on the matter shows that not all Malawians are stupid, some do think and they do it using their brains not their hearts. The chief tried to warn his people, unfortunately Judases were also there.
Looking at the people from the Tobacco estates one is forced to believe that in Malawi the rich always see that power is a radar to success. They will do anything to make sure the poor remain poor. The people used the phrase ‘we want to work with you people’. This is the language used in Malawi. Fraudsters come like messengers and they milk the people taking away what they treasured most thinking they have a partner.
The beating of the chief at the presidential rally shows how freedom of expression is compromised. In Malawi there is freedom of expression but there is no freedom after expression. The state has powerful ears and eyes everywhere and anytime you try to talk sense to it they know how to handle you. The chief talked sense to the government CEO a thing that is normal in a well devolved democracy and one might be forced to think that Malawi’s democracy is still in its infancy. The beating of the chief shows that some people will do anything because they want to save the face of someone. This explain how the state uses the police to silence its critics and this is happening in Malawi 50 years after independence. The chief’s statements are contrary to what chiefs of today say. They always praise the president without giving him or her a true reflection of what the masses are saying no wonder the chief in the movie is given tough lessons after doing the opposite. This is why presidents, MP’s and other leaders seem to be living in a world away from the reality because they are fed lies by boot leakers who care about nothing but their pockets.
The drought and the clip at the Agricultural trade centre shows that in Malawi people are still struggling with hunger. It tints a pathetic picture that Malawi 50 years after independence is still struggling to feed its people and its agriculture depends on rain. It mocks the rain thinking. Thinking that the rain will solve all problems no wonder when the clouds cry loudly there is little harvest because of floods and siltation. The movie even shows how pathetic it reaches in Malawi when hunger strikes. The people eat jungle plants to survive while those with food reduce their meals from three to one or two. When the clouds cry silently the harvest is minimal because of drought. The movie mocks the thinking of moving with the wind. By inference the movie exposes third world thinking of Malawians. It mocks the thinking of waiting for the rains which always have unpredicted results. However, Malawi is a country full of rivers and lakes but little irrigation is done by government since independent to feed the nation. It only promotes primitive irrigation style which can just feed a family or two while the nation will be crying of hunger. In black and white, the movie acts as a wakeup call to Malawians to think of intensive irrigation that can save the nation not this good for nothing rain fed agriculture that has proved to be an annual risk since independence.
Furthermore, the unity depicted in bringing the windmill speaks volumes of societies in Malawi. While the idea of coming up with the windmill is a brainchild of William the theory behind its completion is an output of a joint movie. William’s friends helped him in assembling the needed materials and escorted him to discuss with his father about his bike which William wanted to use in his move to come up with the windmill. In addition, William was helped by his father and some members of the community in setting the windmill up. This unity of purpose is what drives unity in Malawi. When Malawians are having an event they mostly help one another in tears and smiles. Unity is a vital element for communal prosperity as depicted in the movie.
The presentation of women in the play reinforced the negative stereotypes that are dominant in African literature about women being confined in the kitchen. The women in the story apart from the teacher who is a librarian at Kachokolo School are presented with disempowering roles. However, the writer of the play might have been interested in the reality in Africa in presenting the stereotypes but Adichie warns against the use of stereotypes. In her novels Adichie attempts to avoid the stereotypes that discriminate women. In her Ted Talk entitled the “Danger of a single story”, Adichie emphasises the importance of avoiding stereotypes and the necessity of multi-faceted portrayal of stories and characters in literature. According to Adichie, “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”. As such, keeping to her literary principle, Adichie portrays multiple female identities that are complex, dynamic and probable. The women represented in Half of a yellow sun and Purple hibiscus are neither glorified nor exalted to perfection. Rather, they are realistically and remarkably diverse characters that represent positive exemplars for women in text and context. In this case writers should refrain from reinforcing the gender stereotypes that discriminate women in different sectors of the society. For example the movie reinforces the gender stereotypes that Men are strong and they are bread winners while women are passive and depend on men. In the play only William’s father is portrayed as the source of survival for the family. Only men are farming while women remain docile waiting for men.
However, it should be noted that William’s mother expresses optimism with education as a tool to emancipate the African woman. She argues that when her child gets university education, she will be a strong and independent woman who will not be like her molther. Here she claims that education is another tool that can be used to empower the disempowered African women who form the majority of the population.
In addition, the presidential event leaves a lot to be desired. When we watch some movies we are given more of reality episodes of some noble things. When they want to present a chief’s setting they strive to make it real but the presidential setting in the movie is a jumble. The convoy’s cars look more of private cars and not the expensive and posh that are commonly used by African heads of states. Furthermore, the cars did not even have Malawi flags. The chair of the president was too cheap and open. In Malawi and across the world a president seats on a good chair which are covered to hide the texture and quality of the chair. However, the president’s chair was a mlaza chair (locally made chair) a thing that demeans the status of the president. Furthermore, the presidential nsanja (podium) leaves a lot to be preferred. The stage was poor and front patronage was poorly set. In a typical African country like Malawi the stage for the president even in opposition parties is filled to capacity and the decoration is good. However, the stage presented had a lot of spaces in front and the pomp that is seen in reality in a typical presidential rally is not what was represented.
While the movie makers might wanted to include the traditional Gule wa Nkule to present the tradition of the people of Kasungu, the mixture of Gule wa Nkulu and Christianity at the funerals is a mistake. The first scene of the funeral a pastor is seen preaching and minutes later you are shocked to see Nyau coming at a cemetery of a Christian funeral. This does not happen in Malawi and is very abnormal to represent this because it is a misrepresentation of facts. Gule wa Nkulu and Christian events do not happen together. A Gule wa Nkulu funeral cannot be presided by a Christian pastor. Maybe in other African countries but in Malawi it does not work like that. The directors could have consulted the people on how these issue are handle otherwise the clips left many Malawians with more questions than answers.
In addition, the language used in the movie is very problematic especially to Malawians who speak Chichewa. Only few scenes had good articulation of Chichewa and the scenes were acted by Malawians. The movie could have be good Chichewa if it was done by Malawians because a true flavour of Chichewa could have been served. However, it should be appreciated that the movie is an international one and subtitles are welcome hence the international world has no problem with it. Furthermore, it has been noted that few characters from Malawi showed up for the movie auditions forcing the directors to use actors from other countries. Fortunately, their struggled to speak Chichewa properly makes more Malawians interested to watch the movie since it is funny to listen to someone struggling to speak ones language.
All in all Chiwetel Ejiofor managed to tell the story of William in a virtuous way and featured the best actors who managed to harness the wind. The story salivates viewers who are captivated by the storyline and the quality of the pictures. The actors managed to tell the story in such a way that an ordinary story by Malawians turned into an inspiring and motivating movie. The directors helped the actors to maintain the story test and the best was produced. The story presents the reality in Malawi and the directors had good time to read and learn about the culture of the people of Kasungu. With a classy storyline and a powerful narrative drive, Ejiofo and William harnessed the wind.
About the author: Ziliro Mchulu is a graduate of Mzuzu University, Malawi. He studied Education Arts. He is citizen journalist for Nation publication and Malawi News (Daily times). Ziliro features in Mzuni focus magazine.
Name: Ziliro Mchulu
P.O. Box 201