Beasts of No Nation: A Different Kind of African War Film
A rounded square frame captures children playing soccer on a lush field. The camera pulls back, revealing the shell of a television set. Two Black kids observe the scrimmage, like scouts on the pitch, leaning on the disused unit. Slightly taller than the pipsqueak other, the shrewd, sincere boy on the right evaluates the participants. In voice-over, he explains, simply, “Our country is at war.” But war has not collapsed the sunny, Elysian immediate surroundings of these two preadolescent onlookers—yet.
Agu (Abraham Attah) is a good boy, mischievous and resourceful. He lives with his family in an unnamed West African country (though the film was shot in Ghana), in a buffer zone protected from the bloody conflict by Nigerian soldiers. Without school, Agu and his friends restlessly busy themselves with activities such as parading around that television shell. Agu wants to sell this “imagination TV” for money or food. He offers the rubbish to a bemused soldier, and using the shell to frame themselves, the kids perform, in Wakaliwood fashion, soap operas, dance numbers, and raucous kung-fu fights. The camera’s eager lens—flushed by the vibrant, lemon-kissed African sun—captures Agu’s beaming smile, his keenness for approval, his disappointment at the soldier’s unconvinced reaction to his gambit. The scene concludes with Dike (Emmanuel Affadzi), Agu’s best friend, bursting through the television shell, 3D-style, and with Agu almost blushing after the successful barter of the TV. This lighthearted opening sequence, empathetically shot by director Cary Joji Fukunaga, announces a different kind of African war film—one not interested solely in shock and nightmare but in an unrepentant enthrallment with reality.
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