White Shadow

| September 29, 2015

A certain threshold of nerve, motivation or endurance (or likely all of the above) is necessary for viewing something as heavy and as vexing as White Shadow—but this is as it should be. The film is as dire, appalling and frightful as its subject matter as it glaringly opens our eyes to a world where albino people are hunted and persecuted for witchcraft—a world all too real, but still impossible to imagine.

Alias (Hamisi Bazili), a young Albino boy in Tanzania, is on the run after his father is brutally killed by a gang. In certain parts of East Africa albino organs and body parts are sold to witch doctors for handsome prices, and used for curing illness or bringing good fortune and prosperity.
Alias’ mother (Riziki Ally) sends him away to live with her brother Kosmos (James Gayo) in the city, where she believes he will be safer. Alias quickly comes to learn however that reality of survival in the city is as harsh as it is in the village.

Written by Noaz Deshe and James Mason, and directed by Deshe also, White Shadow (a production of Italy, Germany and Tanzania) was featured at the Venice Film Festival in 2013, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and San Francisco in 2014. Deshe and cinematographer Armin Dierholf tell this unnerving tale in a style that is not stylistic, openly navigating through both realism and surrealism to convey this individual story of survival while illustrating for us a world with human hunters, witch doctors and mob justice. Although they present to us a story based on actual occurrences, the film is careful not to make declarations or assessments about a people, a practice, a belief system, etc.

Talking about what he set out do when making the film, director Noaz Deshe said “While preparing to teach in Dar Es Salaam, I learned about the hunting of albinos in East Africa. I decided a film must be made: a real chronicle of a young person with a price on his head, a person who has to urgently become aware of his own condition against events that can end his life.”

What White Shadow does, however tough it is to watch from beginning to end, is: a) remind us of the effects and extent of the marginalization of people, for whatever reason, and specifically the marginalization and persecution of albino people; and b) examines the influence of money and unbridled superstition and mysticism. It does so with grit, honesty and strong, moving performances that will stay with you.

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