Short Films Soar at the African Film Festival

In just 15 minutes, each of these tales will have you reeling with laughter or reminiscing about that sex case that became an international sensation.

Actor Elsaphan Njoro in Soko Sonko
Actor Elsaphan Njoro in Soko Sonko Dru Mungai

The African Film Festival is under way in New York, and two of its short films explore timely topics in unusual ways.

Soko Sonko

Mother’s Day is this Sunday in the United States, and in just 22 minutes, the comedic film Soko Sonko (The Market King, in English) shows the mayhem that can ensue when you take a mother out of the picture for just one day. In the film, set in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, a father is on his way out of the door to watch a highly anticipated soccer game with his friends when he notices that his wife is sick and might not be able to take their daughter to get her hair braided (his wife is coughing loud and hard). Thankfully, he volunteers to take his baby girl to get her tresses tamed, but he approaches the task from the typical guy perspective. He plans to get it done in half the time that it typically takes his wife.

“How hard can this possibly be?” the father probably thought, judging by his calm, if rushed, demeanor. “I’ll be in and out, just in time for the soccer game to begin,” he may have thought.

Yeah, right. If you’ve ever been to a market in a major African city, you know just how robust and hectic that experience can be for laymen such as tourists or even for local fathers, who don’t do the grocery shopping or run errands. Depending on the size of the market, there are approximately 100 merchants crowded in a small area, all standing in front of their stalls peddling their products loudly. Hair braiding is a very popular service, and if you’re walking through a market with your hair seemingly undone, the spotlight is on you:

“Aun-teeee, come and let me make your hair. It will be veeery bu-tee-full,” hustling hair-braiders shout.

Long story short, the father is in too much of a hurry to have the lady who normally braids his daughter’s hair do it, because she already has a few clients waiting, so the poor dad commits cardinal sin No. 1 with regard to black kinky hair. He entrusts the task to a random hair-braider who has never styled his daughter’s hair. When the stylist was done, his daughter’s hair looked a little like Martin Payne’s in that episode of Martin in which Martin runs away to a convent to find himself. Remember? “Nah-gee-rom-bah.”

I won’t give away the whole story, but let’s just say that the shortcomings of the father in the Kenyan film don’t end there. He inadvertently angers a few merchants and has a funny rendezvous with law enforcement. In all, it’s a hilarious story about the lengths to which a man will go for his daughter, and that’s exactly what director Ekwa Msangi-Omari, a Kenyan, said she wanted to portray.

“What’s important to me about this film is the father-daughter relationship,” Msangi-Omari told The Root. “This is a father who loves his daughter, and he loves his wife, and he wants to do right by them. I think that is something that we don’t get to see that much of, sort of black African men doing right.”