By Olorunfemi Olaleye
Coming-of-age dramas remind the audience of how they viewed the world as children. It’s only poetic that Zambia’s first feature film on Netflix is a film that resonates with audiences. Inspired by the life of the Zambian singer John Chiti, Can You See Us? sheds light on a boy, Joseph, rejected by his father because of his albinism. Yet, Joseph traverses through the bullying he faces and finds solace in music.
Directed by Kenny Mumbai and written by Lawrence R.J. Thompson, Can You See Us? tells the story of those ostracised by society by mixing a blend of characters who are fiery and subtle in their emotions. In this film, we see the tragedy and danger of ignorance.
The first scene starts with the fiery passion of Kennedy, played by Kangwa Kileshe: a man in touch with his emotions, willing to go to hell for his wife, whom he proclaims he loves with all his heart. Despite his mother criticising his wife for not being good enough for her son, he defends her and rises to the occasion–imploring his mother to open her heart. However, his fragile defence shows when Chama is put to bed. Kennedy lets the cloud of ignorance block his thinking because his infant son is an albino.
Kennedy abandons Chama, played by Ruth Jule, after the delivery of their son due to his albinism. Depressed and broken, Chama carries her newborn’s rejection with much grace. As she lay on her delivery bed in grief, refusing to feed her newborn, the nurse tells her a famous African saying: “Her son is a blessing.”Society believes that children are always a blessing, yet in that moment, she wonders if her son is truly a blessing. As the taxi driver asks where she’s going, she replies that she doesn’t know. Her reply shows society’s failings, where women’s lives take a twist after being chased from their marital homes.
Joseph, the protagonist, played by a young actor, Thabo Kaamba, grows up and wonders why his mom protects him so much. His childhood curiosity takes centre stage, and he presses with questions, asking why he can’t play with the other kids. Kenny Mumbai and Kangwa Kileshe use the powerful dialogue to make us see the corundum Chama faces: she protects Joseph without referring to his albinism.
Can you see us? forces us to question and dissect our biases. Do we show prejudice to what we don’t understand or do we judge those who are different? The film does well to bring a societal issue to light with its witty dialogue and excellent acting.
One day, he defies the cage placed on him by his mother and brings the neighbouring kids a blessing: a toy. He shows them that toy in the hope that they will accept him. But we see children in their innocence and ignorance, speaking whatever comes to their mind. They call Joseph a mwabi (demon) and chase him into a madman’s house, where Joseph discovers his love for music.
The director of photography, Rick Joaquim, did a fantastic job on the transition between scenes. The shot’s framing depicts the characters’ emotions, and we can see how they brought the scenes to life. Another brilliant execution is the film’s musical score, which fits like a glove. It is solemn and draws emotion, thus revealing that music connects and intertwines, winning the people’s hearts. With Joseph learning music, he finds a part of himself that exists outside his appearance.
My only gripe with the film is the hasty pacing of its third act. However, Can You See Us? holds a mirror to society and shows us the stigma people living with albinism face in Zambia. It is a reflective film and a good watch.