Hatuko Watumwa Review

Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 8.31.30 PM
AKA: We Are Not Slaves
Genre: Drama
Year Released: 2015

Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo/USA
Distributor: Free the Slaves
Running Time: 33 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A

For Fans Of: God Grew Tired of Us, Dreams of Dust, Slumdog Millionaire, At the End of Slavery
-This film is streaming on YouTube.

Fun Facts:
-Most of the dialogue is in Swahili, but the ending narration is in French.

-This was directed by Billy Mukendi and was produced by the production company Collywood Productions. Collywood is apparently a name for Congolese cinema like how Bollywood is to India and Nollywood is to Nigeria.

Looks like I’m going back to the DRC, but this time around, I’ll be dealing with the work of a Congolese director. Some of you may remember me reviewing The Testimony not too long ago which was average and it had problematic propaganda elements to it. I scoured all over the place for some Congolese films and I happened to stumble on one that was made in conjunction to the organization called Free the Slaves.

How good is this particular film made in Central Africa?

Hakuto Watumwa is about a family in the rural part of the DRC who’s been suffering financial woes. The tale is narrated by a boy named Safari (yes, seriously) who was born premature and has some health issues. There’s his dad Kalume who is renting bikes to get money while his wife Safi works in their small farm. Kalume is in deep trouble when someone who loaned a motorbike crashed and is in the hospital, so he has no way to make income for his family. He goes to the local creditor who gives him an option to pay off the debt on one condition: he has to work in his mines as time served. Kalume is caught in the debt-laden slavery while people in the community try to address the issue as the men and even children have been forced to work on this mine against their will.

This film certainly took an angle on a dark topic that needed to be discussed: debt slavery. It’s not human trafficking, but it’s certainly a horrible situation where people have to work hard and long just so they can repay their debts, but they obviously get no paychecks in the process. I did like how that situation was portrayed realistically without being too brutal while still getting the message across. It was also good seeing the protagonists working their hardest to advocate for those in the community who were enslaved in the mines even when some of the police refused to pursue charges. The ending narration relayed this point to Congo being the most mineral and resource-rich country in the world, but that wealth is certainly not allocated fairly to the masses due to the people being exploited (many of whom are from businesses much bigger than what the creditor could dream of). The video production was well-done here seeing the earth tones of the Congolese countryside while also showing the darker elements of the debt slavery and the exploitation involving the brothel owner Great Priest Mother. The ending theme was a nice Afro-pop tune that echoes the sentiment of the film as a decent protest song.

Hakuto Watumwa does falter in places. While the subject of debt traps should be discussed, I thought the film was far too preachy in it’s approach. Not just with the narration, but Safari’s narration could come off as didactic at times. The focus of the different characters gets confused. I thought it would mainly be about Safari, but I thought Kalume, Safi, and Mbambu got way more screen time than him, so that threw me off. There were also cheesy elements like how the creditor’s strongmen henchmen were called (get this) Hercules and Samson. How creative [sarcasm mode]. The ending is positive, but it does rely on the narration and it’s just two steps away from being too much of a “Disney ending” for me which can be disingenuous.

This Congolese film was a decent watch. Hakuto Watumwa shines a light on an issue that needed to be addressed in film which I certainly applaud. However, the heavy-handed nature of the plot irked me despite being invested in the characters and the story. The visuals and audio worked just fine for me. Hakuto Watumwa wasn’t offensive to me, but I’ve seen movies take on subject matter in better ways.

Adjustable Point System:

Add 1-2 point if you like human rights issues in your movies.
Subtract 2-3 points if you don’t like preachy narratives.

-Unique take on the slavery issue
-Realistic depiction of debt traps and corruption
-Great ending theme

-Didactic and preachy narratives
-Ending can be too positive for a movie like this
-Poverty porn elements

Final Score: 6/10 points

Content Warning: Hatuko Watumwa would be a better fit for teens and up since the subject matter gets intense even if not everything is seen. Slavery is a major issue as even children get caught up in working at these mines. There’s discussion of sexual exploitation and it’s even mentioned that one character was an accessory to child sexual abuse in their business (thankfully, it’s not shown, but only mentioned).

-Curtis Monroe

All photos used under US “Fair Use” laws. Hatuko Watumwa is property of Billy Mukendi and Free the Slaves. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Free the Slaves.

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