I didn’t think it would be that deep. I decided to watch it in the cinema with my friends simply because it was a Kenyan movie. But I was not ready for the impact it would have on me, or us.
Yes, Softie is no ordinary Kenyan film. And I say that as someone who predominantly watches Kenyan movies.
Ask me the latest Marvel movie and I’ll hesitate, but ask about the latest local film on Netflix and I’ll tell you straight.
And most Kenyan movies have the most unique storylines. That’s because Kenyan filmmakers don’t make movies for the sake of it. They go through a lot just to get adequate funding and purchase hefty licenses in order to turn their stories into visuals the world can see. And so they make it worth the struggle.
Here are examples from some award-winning Kenyan movies.
Kati Kati is about the afterlife. Supamodo is making a dying girl’s dreams come true. Dream Child is about the consequences of keeping secrets.
Tapi is about religion vs tradition. Watu Wote is about terrorism vs humanity. Rafiki is about lesbian love.
Thank you for the rain is about climate change. 18 hours is about the failing healthcare system. Lusala is about mental health, which challenged the crew’s mental health too. But that’s a drama for another day.
Softie is on a whole other league. For one, it’s a documentary film. And two, it’s about a Kenyan hero who is miraculously still alive. A living legend.
His name, Boniface Mwangi.
Who is Boni?
A lot of controversies follow this former photojournalist. But one thing he’s known for is standing up against the authorities, and paying heavily for it. Usually with his body and blood.
His normal life includes getting arrested and sometimes injured for leading peaceful protests in Nairobi. Yet he continues to intimidate the Kenyan government despite the ugly consequences that follow. The reason most of us don’t do it.
But this brave patriot was once a softie.
And this Kenyan documentary film is about Boniface Mwangi’s life as a political activist, family man, and potential parliamentarian.
The ironic part is he wants to become the thing he loathes the most. An MP(ig). Hoping he can change the corrupt system from the inside. Use the power in his hands to make a positive change in Kenya.
If you follow Kenyan politics (or Boniface on Twitter), then you know how that ended.
If not, this movie tells the full story of the underdog.
Here are 5 good reasons you need to watch Softie the film:
It premiered at the world famous 2020 Sundance Film Festival on January 25th. The first Kenyan film to premiere at Sundance (just like Rafiki at Cannes). And it won the special jury prize for editing.
Softie has also been screened at international film festivals in Denmark, Germany and South Africa. After winning the Best Documentary at the Durban International Film Festival 2020, it qualified for the Oscar documentary shortlist for the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony.
Softie finally premiered in Kenyan cinemas on 16th October 2020. And after two weeks of screenings in Nairobi and Eldoret, it appeared in El Gouna Film Festival, Egypt. Where it won the El Gouna Silver Star for Documentary Film.
Now, wouldn’t you want to watch an award-winning Kenyan documentary?
2. It’s real
This 2020 Kenyan movie documents Boni’s journey from a fierce activist to a potential politician. It’s raw and unfiltered. No Airbrush or Photoshop here.
You step into the life and home of Boniface Mwangi. Feel how big his shoes fit in the morning. Sit in his living room and lie on his bed. While watching how his precarious career affects his wife and kids (I’ve always wanted to use that reference).
He’s not only a patriot, he’s also a family man like your neighbour or brother. But like in the movie poster, he’s the fearless revolutionary in the family whereas his wife Njeri and three children look on with caution.
Throughout the film, one question stands out:
What comes first – family or country?
3. State of Kenyan politics
Softie is not just the real-life story about a man’s struggle to balance his love for his country and family.
It is also a history lesson in Kenyan politics – from the horrific Post Election Violence in 2007-2008 to the two top politicians of the country being tried at ICC for crimes against humanity. And getting away with it because there was not enough evidence.
You relive the repetition of POV in 2017 that led to the magic handshake between life-long rivals Uhuru and Odinga. Which did not bring any of the dead back to life, surprisingly.
You go behind the scenes of what actually happens at polling stations on election days. What drives citizens to vote for one candidate over the other? Why do we re-elect the same people who continuously cause chaos in our country? Why do we never learn?
On the other hand, Boni defies the status quo which his corrupt competitors subscribe to. The passionate Khadijah manages his grassroots election campaign which is driven by ideologies, not bribes. But is Kenya ready for a real leader like him?
4. Police brutality
If you’ve never been on the harsh streets of Nairobi protesting, you need to see this.
It’s one thing watching these peaceful protests turned rogue on TV. It’s another thing to watch it on a raw Kenyan documentary film like Softie.
Boni (and sometimes Njeri) is the main protagonist. On the opposite side of the ring, the police officers – who are supposed to be protecting the people – are the heartless antagonists. Fela Kuti’s resistance song Zombie comes to mind.
What happened to “utumishi kwa wote”?
5. The film soundtrack
From the first song that plays in the background, you get sucked in. With those sweet guitar licks, you can tell it’s a classic Kenyan song from the 60s or 70s.
One of my motivations to watch the movie after seeing the Softie trailer online.
The nyatiti strings betray the late Ayub Ogada’s signature sound. But the prime moment is when Sauti Sol’s and Nyashinski’s conscious collabo plays on the theatre’s surround speakers.
The message in “Tujiangalie” is so poignant and appropriate. And it accompanies one of the most beautiful montages in the movie. It might make you cry; it did for me.
The official Softie soundtrack is Naona Mbali, another powerful collaboration between King Kaka (of Wajinga Nyinyi), Juliani, Miriam Ayoo and Dan Aceda. The music video was directed by Likarion Wainaina, the same guy who directed Supamodo. And it speaks volumes without having to say a word.
Here’s another revolutionary Kenyan song to add to our conscious Kenyan music playlist. Cue the music…
Directed by Sam Soko and produced also by Toni Kamau, Softie took 7 years to make. 5 years of shooting and 2 years of editing over 600 hours of footage was painstakingly condensed into 96 minutes.
Believe it or not, this was Sam Soko’s first feature documentary. The Kenyan director is also a co-founder of LBx Africa, the same company which produced the 2018 Academy Award-nominated short film Watu Wote. And the winning streak continues.
This film will make you feel deeply and cry liberally, like a Softie. It opens up past wounds that are not yet healed and presses methylated spirit into them.
And you can watch Softie this week in select Nairobi cinemas. Or catch it on PBS if you’re in America and BBC in the United Kingdom.
As a Kenyan, there’s no movie you’ll ever watch as important as Softie. Not only to realize how different Kenya is on the ground – especially for those who only raise their passionate fists on Twitter streets – but to celebrate a Kenyan hero who is not given enough credit.
A modern-day shujaa who is willing to fight for his country.
And like my friends and I, it leaves you thinking: What would you do for your country?