Netflix officially started investing in Africa in February 2020, licensing and commissioning films and shows, especially from Nigeria and South Africa, the countries with a more consolidated film industry.
Now it’s Uganda’s turn, with The Girl in the Yellow Jumper, directed by Loukman Ali, a crime thriller based on the true story of a series of seemingly unrelated murders in the Nadunget area of Uganda. This localisation is amplified in its use of local parables to drive home a grand message: the good thing is not always the right thing to do.
The film’s journey to being acquired by Netflix was not easy. In 2020, it was set for a cinematic screening across Kampala, the first locally made Ugandan film to be accepted by commercial cinemas in the country’s capital, which usually show US blockbusters.
But just weeks before its premiere the government announced a lockdown and restrictions on public gatherings, and these plans came to a halt.
Like most young African filmmakers, Loukman Ali, the film’s writer and director, is self-taught. He got his movie-making education from YouTube and on the job, thanks in part to the dearth of credible film schools on the continent.
The Girl in The Yellow Jumper is Ali’s debut feature film, made with sweat, passion, zeal and about $8 000 that he raised from a crowdsourcing drive on Facebook.
Those funds were not nearly enough to complete the film’s production.
“We had no money,” Ali tells The Continent. “We got kicked out of a location because we didn’t have $10 to bribe a guard. No one on the crew had that much left on him.”
The team also had to take breaks while filming, creating continuity issues when some actors left the project. Ali had to hide this, using body doubles and masks for some characters. He says these challenges have helped him in his subsequent productions, short films streamed on YouTube. These hurdles sprang up against the backdrop of a country with little official support for its creative industries.
When The Girl in the Yellow Jumper started streaming, the health ministry spokesperson tweeted: “Watched, but it’s just fake.”
This unleashed widespread solidarity for the film and its director, especially from local creatives who work with little formal support and a lot of denigration from the government. President Yoweri Museveni, for example, routinely urges Ugandans to abandon the arts for the presumably more useful sciences.
“I agree that all art should be evaluated critically but I am very protective against criticising the ‘firsts’ of anything,” says Kemiyondo Coutinho, another Uganda filmmaker. “I always say there are two stories in a film: the story of the film and the story of making the film. So if you didn’t like it, cool, but [Ali] has showcased Ugandan film and crew to the world and I personally love that story the most.”
For his part, Ali says he hopes the international spotlight Netflix has brought to The Girl in the Yellow Jumper opens the eyes of the world to the potential of Ugandan filmmakers and artists.
This article was first published in The Continent, the award-winning pan-African newsletter designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.