review for Mama Africa: Growing Up Urban on AllMovie

Mama Africa: Growing Up Urban (2002)
by Josh Ralske review

Mama Africa is a consistently interesting and well-made African episode film, only slightly marred by occasional lapses into a rather simplistic moralism. Of the three shorts, Hang Time, directed by Ngozi Onwurah (the most experienced director of the three), is the slickest, most well written, and most interesting thematically. Kwame (Brian Biragi) is a talented and driven teen who feels he can't rely on his father, who spends long periods away from home working on an oil rig. Onwurah does a good job of setting up Kwame's decision to turn to criminality in order to buy the sneakers he needs to impress an American basketball scout. Biragi is appealing in the lead. While the tragedy that befalls Kwame will seem contrived to some, his younger sister's (Hilja Lindsay-Parkinson) pragmatic response to that tragedy hits home with its blunt honesty. In Uno's World, director Bridget Pickering does a good job in frankly portraying how a rebellious teenage girl gets into more trouble than she is emotionally prepared to handle. This character study has a true-to-life feel in its depiction of the resourceful but irresponsible Uno (Sophie David) and her social milieu. Raya is the most problematic of the three films, despite an engaging and charismatic performance by Rehane Abrahams in the title role. While director Zulfah Otto-Sallies seems to sympathize with Raya's rejection of her mother's religious beliefs, which Raya understandably finds oppressive, the film falls into the trap of depicting Raya's later problems as a direct result of her choosing an independent life. Similarly to the main characters in the other two films, Raya is between a rock and a hard place, but the difficult decisions she makes are more understandable. Taken as a whole, Mama Africa entertainingly and movingly shows a world Western audiences have rarely seen.