Black Panther is a great and important film but so American. Yeelen, meanwhile, is a true African superhero movie: minimalist, earnest, with zero swag, but a lot of heart. And that’s not all: it’s also a great study of power dynamics, tribalism and sacrifice, as well as a heart-wrenching family story. The film tells of how the landlocked nation of Mali was founded, and concentrates on the story of Nianankoro, a young man with special powers who must face his vengeful father, a dark wizard prone to human sacrifice, and overcome the bearing of his family’s clan on his destiny.
Yeelen is also probably one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen lately, even though the majority of scenes is just bodies against nature. But how splendid it all looks. Yeelen won the jury’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and honestly, I think our stupid colonial culture is to blame for the fact that it didn’t win more, or that Souleymane Cissé is not lauded as one of the greatest filmmakers in the world.
Yeelen (Brightness), 1987
Director: Souleymane Cissé