’Softie’ a must-see visceral political biopic at DIFF
By Taryn Joffe
Kenyan filmmaker Sam Soko’s debut feature documentary “Softie” is a powerful and eye-opening introduction to Kenyan politics; and the film’s ambitious protagonist, photojournalist turned activist turned politician, Boniface ‘Softie” Mwangi.
The World Bank cites Kenya as the fastest growing country in sub-Saharan African and yet, Kenyan citizens have suffered government corruption since the country gained independence sixty years ago.
Politically, two dynasties have more or less maintained a violent and oppressive status quo, crushing any form of dissent.
In 2007, Mwangi bravely documented the post-election civil unrest, which led to the deaths of 1000 people. The violence was largely due to the colonial legacy of tribalism that continues to divide Kenyans till this day. Mwangi was only twenty-seven years old at the time he received his second African Photojournalist of the Year award from CNN for his work in 2010.
Radicalised by the suffering he witnessed on the field, Mwangi took to activism, fighting injustices and organising protests against corrupt political leadership. This path led to an eventual run for office in the regional parliamentary 2017 elections.
Soko’s film shines a spotlight on Mwangi’s idealism and chronicles his grassroots campaign which he attacked with grit and a genuine activist spirit of transformation.
The battle for country is the heart of this inspiring documentary. But Soko makes room for Mwangi’s equally engrossing personal battles as he struggles to fit into his role as husband and father.
His wife, Njeri, who fell in love with Mwangi for his ambition – and is an activist in her own right – shares the spotlight and comes across as a formidable figure.
Mother of their three kids, Njeri worries for his safety and begs him to put his family first as they squabble over their respective priorities – God, country and family.
Mwangi’s activism constantly puts the family in harm’s way, but for him it isn’t simply a matter of choosing between family and country, even though he recognises that it must come to this eventually.
Soko enfuses this political biopic not with radicalism, but with a fervent energy, which is felt in his choice of upbeat music, bold cinematography and spirit of protest.
“Softie” opens with a political stunt that has Mwangi and his group spilling 1000 litres of animal blood across the screen as an act of protest against greedy lawmakers.
Radical yet gentle, Softie adds to the broader conversations of human rights representation, as well as fatherhood.
“Softie” received the Gauteng Film Commission Award for Best South African/African Film at the 22nd edition of Encounters South African International Documentary Festival and is currently playing at the Durban International Film Festival, which runs until September 20, 2020.