“When you fight for your country, your kids benefit.” Though this is a sentiment behind so many voices in our country as we prepare for an exceptionally turbulent presidential election, for Boniface “Softie” Mwangi, a Kenyan photojournalist and social activist turned politician, this belief comes with stakes many of us fortunately don’t have to confront even in our increasingly divided communities. Boniface is a revolutionary with a desire for his children to live in a country with an honest government, safe from violence and corruption, but in order to see this come to pass he must risk everything and everyone he cares about.
In Sam Soko’s documentary SOFTIE, now playing in our Virtual Movie Palace, we follow Boniface on an uphill journey as he puts everything on the line to make his country a better place, while the repercussions of his actions threaten to tear his family apart. Boniface’s life seems ordinary. He has a comfortable home in Kenya, a wife and three young children who fight over the iPad. But at a moment early in the film, as he’s walking out the front door his son asks, “Where are you going?” to which Boniface plainly responds, “I’m going to topple the government.” And this is not a hyperbolic statement—it’s what he’s really setting out to do. Although Kenya is growing faster than any other sub-Saharan nation, it’s also one of the most corrupt, and one that has been built with extreme wealth disparity.
For Boniface, his campaign for a seat in the Kenyan parliament is purely revolutionary, not only in what he plans to do if elected but also in how he’s prepared to run his campaign. He vies for his seat against a wealthy opponent who lauds his cash in music videos, in a country where votes are primarily earned with bribes. While Boniface runs a grassroots strategy, talking to citizens directly and asking for donations, he’s openly ridiculed while his opponent literally drives down the street throwing money out of the car. Even as his campaign promotes basic platforms like requiring police to wear uniforms to identify themselves, he’s still met with the same request from most voters: “Give me money.”
This Sisyphean struggle that we find him in seems masochistic, delusional, and counterproductive at times. So far, how I’ve described the film might make it seem filled with dread and futility. But, when you meet Boniface, his honesty and a personality that exudes confidence and optimism is immediately apparent. He has a bright smile, an infectious chuckle, and he surrounds himself with likeminded people, such as a campaign manager with enough attitude and personality to deserve her own documentary.
As our own election drama unfolds, SOFTIE puts our troubles into humbling context by showing us how these issues translate and amplify across the world. At the same time, it shows us exactly how democracy can mutate and what could be at stake for our own. Even as the film weaves in difficult family drama and twists straight out of a political thriller, it hits the screen with passion, joy and hope. Because, no matter the outcome of his election, you’ll find there is hope in Boniface’s story. It’s a reminder that no matter how bad things can get, we can’t all be knocked down, and those that remain standing will be stronger than ever.
After you watch SOFTIE, I have a couple more election-focused films to recommend. There’s Knock Down the House, one of my favorite documentaries from the 2019 Sundance Film Festival that follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her campaign to earn her seat in Congress, and Mitt, the 2014 documentary that also played at Sundance that year, which chronicles Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, during which his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Both are available on Netflix, but if you’re looking to continue supporting the Michigan Theater Foundation (and we hope that you are), and would rather continue with something a little more lighter, romantic and joyful, Love & Busking is another delightful film with terrific music that’s also now playing in our Virtual Movie Palace.
Thank you for supporting us in this time and I hope we can safely enjoy movies with you again soon. Have a terrific rest of your week.
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