A Kenyan documentary film coined ‘The Letter’ has been selected to represent Kenya in the 93rd Academy Awards. It was chosen as Kenya’s entry for the Best International Feature Film award. The Kenya Film Commission chose The Letter after being nominated along with ‘Uradi.’ It was selected for its cultural impact and how it tells a grandma’s and her grandson’s story. Karisa, the grandson, leaves the city after realizing that his grandma is being accused of witchcraft back in their village.
Karisa goes to the village and realizes a web of toxicity and threats posed against his grandma owing to accusations of being a witch. On further analysis, he realizes that witch-hunting is somewhat of a cultural phenomenon where individuals will blame the elderly for witchcraft as a way to steal their land. Karisa realizes that witchcraft accusations are used to push the elderly out of their land and to threaten and scare them into leaving. It is a way that the young use to force their way into an inheritance and inheriting property in the hands of the elderly. Elders receive letters warning them of dire consequences if they fail to give up their land. The practice becomes so endeared to the youth that elders accused of witchcraft have to leave their homes and seek sanctuaries to avoid the threats’ actualization. The film portrays the power of community and female strength.
The situation is so bad that Karisa has to maneuver interfamily conflict between his aunts and uncles and defend his grandma at all costs. The film also portrays an infusion of western norms and culture that lead to greed and a cultural appropriation of aspiring to acquire wealth easily or illegally. Karisa stands his ground, and even when the church holds exorcisms at his home, he and his family stand tall and stay firm. The film is co-directed by couple Christopher King and Maia Lekow. Maia also created the original song for the film in what is an album of unearthly melodies that are haunting and comforting at the same time.
The Letter was chosen over ‘Uradi,’ a crime thriller set in Kenya. It delves into the topics of drug trafficking and a culture of crime. A local man is enticed into drug trafficking that leads him to a life of crime and inroads with the police and authorities. The film has originality, suspense and features some of Kenya’s most prominent actors, including Peter Kawa, Manasseh Nyaga, Shiks Kapienga, and Mwaura Bilal. The film premiered on September 25th, 2020, in a drive-in at the Galleria Shopping Mall. However, the Letter was the chosen pick and is slated to be a contender in the 93rd Academy Awards.