Berlinale Bloggers 2018 Black women at Berlinale - Family Relationships

Supa Modo
Film Still © One Fine Day Films / Enos Olik

Grace Barber-Plentie saw Supa Modo and Maki’la - and explores how family relationships between black women are portrayed in these films.

As part of my role as a Berlinale Blogger for Goethe Institut, I’ve been encouraged to write not just about films from my country of origin, but also about a subject that’s important to me. Starting with my review of Game Girls, I’ve chosen to write about films about black women at Berlinale - it’s so rare to see so many interesting and dynamic depictions at a film festival. I’ll be writing about these films in two sections - gender and sexuality, family, and mental health. I’m also delighted to have been able to interview the director of Shakedown, Leilah Weinraub.

In this article I’ll be looking at the way that family relationships for black women are portrayed at Berlinale, focusing on Supa Modo and Maki’la.

Supa Modo

How do you let go of someone - particularly when that person is a child? And how do you let someone live out the last days of their life - do you shelter them or let them live out their final wishes and desires? These are the issues explored in Likarion Wainaina’s family friendly film, which never shies away from the pains of a loved one dying, but manages to show that life should be lived to the fullest even to someone’s last minute. Jo, a young girl in an African town, is dying. While she dreams of becoming a superhero called Supa Modo, and adoringly watches old Jackie Chan movies, her mother fusses and struggles to let go.
Jo’s sister Mwix, not wanting Jo to miss out on an ordinary childhood while she still can, develops a plan with the local community - to convince Jo that she really does have super powers. The “it takes a village to raise a child” mentality is extremely strong in Supa Modo, in which it’s made clear that Jo is a beloved member of the community. When Jo announces a dying wish of wanting to make her very own superhero film starring Supa Modo, the entire community are quick to step in and provide Jo with everything that she could need.
While they could easily be stereotypes, the roles of Jo’s mother and Mwix are fully fleshed out. It’s clear that they are both already in mourning and unwilling to let go of Jo, which chooses them to both act in different ways. However, both mother and daughter’s actions seem completely reasonable - they both just want the best for Jo. Supa Modo is an important portrait not just of a little girl who wants to be a superhero, but of the family members who love her.


Maki'la Film Still © Machérie Ekwa Bahango
Family is not just who we’re related to by blood, as is shown in Maki’la. The film follows a runaway orphan, Maki’la (played by the absolutely mesmerizing Amour Lombi) who has found a family of her own thanks to a tough gang leader husband, Mbingazor, and a group of fellow runaways who become the Oliver Twists to her Fagins. However Maki’la is dissatisfied, distant, and this becomes truly apparent when she chooses to take the naive Acha into her care. 
As Maki’la and Acha form their own family, Acha also searches for her blood family - brother Jonathan. Maki’la’s plotting is definitely more contrived and not as well executed as Supa Modo, but nevertheless it’s extremely refreshing to see Maki’la and Acha’s dynamic - in which they become sisters in a sense, and Maki’la, who seems anything but, becomes almost maternal towards Acha.
Both films show us that there is not one way to be a mother, or a daughter, or a sister for black women.