Reel Reviews | African Giants (Slamdance ’24)

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

A young Georgetown law student visits his older brother, a hard-working actor about to get his break in Los Angeles in, African GIants.

Alhaji is an aspiring actor, teaching online classes out of his bedroom to make a living.  One weekend, Alhaji’s younger brother Sheku comes to Los Angeles to see his big brother’s world.  However, Sheku comes to town with disturbing news that threatens to shake their family’s trust, hopes, and beliefs to the core.  Of course, before telling their parents, Sheku plans to survey his brother’s feelings and response before he shares it.  When Alhaji receives some disturbing news of his own, the weekend threatens to spiral out of control and the bond of brotherly love is tested like never before.

African Giants is a narrative feature, written and directed by Omar S. Kamara.  It stars Dillon Daniel Mutyaba as Alhaji, Omete Anassi as Sheku with Tanyell Waivers, Josh Lopez, and Kathleen Kenny.  This is the first feature film directed by Kamara.

Director Kamara confesses that the story in the movie is mostly autobiographical about a time when his brother came to visit him while he was working in LA as an actor.  While much of the script has a basis in reality, Kamara also states that there is plenty that was created to move the story and make it more dramatic.

The dramatic chemistry between Mutyaba and Anassi is incredible.  They relate to each other so easily and confidently that it is hard not to believe that they are brothers, even when they look nothing alike.  Each of the men has power in their performances and it is delightful to observe.  At one point in time, the movie can be held as an acting class for those who are aspiring actors which is ironic since the movie is about aspiring actors.

Kamara mentions his love for Barry Jenkins and borrows a technique from his movie Medicine for Melancholy in providing narrative interludes.  These interludes allow the audience to understand each brother in terms of their relationship and their upbringing.  The knowledge provided in the interludes about their heritage and familial expectations is essential to the dialogue we see and the interactions between the principal characters.  Although Kamara is paying homage to a respected filmmaker, it might have been better for him to allow these points to come through the narrative dialogue.

African Giants has not yet been rated by the MPAA.  The movie does include scenes of smoking, drug and alcohol use, and language.  The acting performances are very good and the direction is smart and sensible for a first-time director.  The film was made through the AFI internship program of which Omar Kamara is a fellow.

 Grade: B