When it comes to humanist dramas, most moviegoers don’t usually take the time to see these films because of the lack of special effects, explosions, and dangerous stunts. They mostly stay away from films with challenging subject matter and character-driven narratives. These films tell stories about real people with real predicaments, sometimes with hopeful results, while others don’t exactly end well. However, in director Noaz Deshe’s 2013 harrowing White Shadow, narratives can be both tragic and hopeful. This is a really difficult film to watch, but with moments of extremely sublime beauty.
This is a story of Alias, an albino living in East Africa where his race has become an endangered commodity, because albinos are human targets of a terrifying trade: witch doctors offer thousands of dollars for albino body parts which are expected to bring wealth, success, and special powers. Because of this, albinos of any age and gender are hunted and killed for their parts. After seeing his father murdered right in front of him, his mother sends him away to find safety in the city. While taking care of his younger brother Salum, he becomes a quick learner: selling goods such as keyboards, DVD, sunglasses, and other items for enough money for him and Salum. He encounters his uncle, who takes him in, until he falls for his daughter Antoinette, which causes him to be kicked out. His journey to freedom gets even dangerous after Salum is captured and killed, which leaves Alias alone to fight for his survival in a world that continues to view him just as profit, instead of human.
Although the film doesn’t follow the usual narrative, and some scenes are a little oddly placed, it is still a film that stuns the viewer with haunting moments of beauty in the midst of dread. The cinematography perfectly captures the terror of Alias’ dilemma as he struggles to fight for his life. Certain scenes stick in the mind: Alias pretending to talk to someone on a broken phone he finds while a female villager looks on, he and Antoinette in bed as they caress each other before his uncle kicks him out, the intense opening scene where his father is killed for his parts, the chase where Alias is pursued in the ocean by a group of men wanting his parts, and the ambiguous but hopeful ending where he playfully chases white dust tornadoes while running to his eventual destination.
Newcomer Hamisi Bazili remarkably inhabits Alias, a character rarely glimpsed in cinema. Through his eyes, we see the horror of his world; we dread if he gets caught, and we hope for his survival. He communicates everything we need to know about him without saying much. He is an actor of immense range and intensity, and his story is an important one that needs to be told more.
The special features are rather limited, only consisting of short featurettes that detail the film’s story, casting, and location. Before Casting – this short piece looks at finding the right supporting actors for the film. The Day We Found Haimisi – a piece about finding lead actor Bazili, who shares a sad song about the plight of albinos who need protection. Dar Es Salaam – a piece about location footage where most of the film take places. Tanika Center – a piece shot at a community center where director Deshe talks to young albinos about their lives and growing up. Lastly, there are two deleted scenes: Outside The Village and Keyboard Scene.
I think this film is a stunning depiction of the human condition that is a call to action, and an important film that needs to be seen. Overall, I was really shocked by the violence and intensity, but I really enjoyed the film’s unusual storytelling, even if some of the narrative feels a little odd.