12 things I loved about “The Burial Of Kojo” and why you should absolutely watch and rewatch this film right away
On March 31st 2019, the Ghanaian film “The Burial of Kojo” became available on Netflix in North America, but I almost forgot to watch it, even though I had been waiting on its release for more than two years. It was a Sunday morning, I had probably gone out the night before, and I had just finished watching a two-hour action packed movie that I adored, so I was kinda too tired to try to watch anything else. Then, the title of the film popped up on my social media feed #TheBurialofKojo, so I quickly remembered about it, and thought “Oh, let me watch this quickly to make sure that no one ruins it for me on Twitter, by detailing the plot or something.” I spend plenty of time on social media for work, and I know how my people do. I remember people quoting lines and posting scenes of “Black Panther” on social media not even a full 24 hours after its release, and how I had to take a social media break back then, just to make sure that I would not know the key plot before entering the theater, but that’s another story...
Even though I had been following the Instagram and Twitter accounts of “The Burial of Kojo” since the days of its pre-production, I had always been super careful not to read anything about its plot, because I like going into films knowing the least among of things possible about them. But, what I knew for sure, was that the director, writer and producer of the film was Samuel Bazawule aka “Blitz The Ambassador”, a rapper and musician that I had been following heavily on social media since falling in love with his album “Native Sun” back in 2011. My Apple Music Library could tell you that “Native Sun” was one of the most played albums on my player that year, and I still listen to it with joy to this day. I love Blitz’s music, I love his artistry (all of his CDs were always released with dope visuals and videos), so, as soon as he made the announcement that he was working on a feature film, I became intrigued, and kept checking his feed on a regular basis to keep up to date with the production. Back then, he would post a few cryptic pictures of his storyboard (that he drew entirely by himself) or post updates about the film score (that he composed by himself) that he got to record in Paris.
Needless to say, the anticipation was building and building for me as time progressed, and, once the film was finished and that Blitz started touring the film circuit and having special screenings of it in the U.S., in Africa or in Europe to promote it, I couldn’t help but thinking: “But what about Toronto? Bruh, are you ever going to bring your film to my city? What should a sista do to be able to watch “The Burial of Kojo”? And I guess the Gods of African cinema must somehow have heard my questions because, at the beginning of the year 2019, it was finally announced that ARRAY, aka Ava Duvernay’s distribution company, had brought the rights to the film and that it would be distributed at the end of March through Netflix. Hurrah!
And so, March 31st came. And I finally started watching this film that I had been expecting for so long. Mind you, it was on a small cell phone, lying on my bed, trying to recover from a short night with not so much sleep, while I’d rather have watched this film on a big screen in a theatre, but still... I was watching it. And then, I got a little… underwhelmed. Yes, I must confess. I was not super thrilled by this film at first. Yes, I liked the cinematography, the colors, the images, but I found the pace very slow, and to be honest, I really had trouble getting into it. (especially just after having finished watching a two-hour action packed movie) I actually almost stopped watching “The Burial of Kojo” in the middle of it, thinking I would pause it and resume watching another day, when I would be a little more awake, and have a little more energy to dedicate to it, but somehow, something inside of me told me to keep on watching. It is not a long movie (80 minutes in total), and I felt like I owed it to my “two-years-of-excitedly-waiting-for-this-movie-to-come-out” self to, at least, try to watch it until the end…
And then, it hit me. Oh, it hit me good and well. I had to eat my words. I silently apologized to my cell phone screen for my early harsh judgement. I instantly woke up and started paying closer and closer attention. And the film kept hitting me. The beauty, the beauty! What a story… What a film! It left me in tears and I had to watch it a second time immediately. Whatever plans I had for that day got cancelled. I rewatched “The Burial of Kojo” in its entirety at least once again that same evening. And I must have watched it a thousand times during the days that followed. I also forced (well, convinced) my bestie to watch it, so that I could have someone to discuss it with. I’m basically telling everyone I know to watch this film at this point. lol That’s how obsessed I am with this film… I think it’s a masterpiece. I want to write thesis after thesis on this film. It stroke something in me that I thought was not there any more. It reignited my passion for filmmaking and storytelling. (and y’all know I was kinda done) It touched me and moved me extremely deeply for a list of reasons that I can’t explain without getting too deep into the plot, (or into my personal life), so I won’t do this here. What I will do is discussing this brilliant piece of filmmaking while avoiding discussing the plot. Because you have to watch it for yourself. In the meantime, without further ado, here are the 12 things that I really loved about “The Burial of Kojo”, and why I think you should absolutely watch and rewatch this film as soon as possible.
- AN AMAZING SCORE THAT KEEPS HAUNTING YOU AND MAKES YOU WANT TO LISTEN TO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN, EVEN LONG AFTER THE FILM IS FINISHED
Listen. Blitz is a musician and an accomplished musician at that, I must say. He has four albums out, plus four EPs out, and countless international tours to his name, so one thing I knew for sure was that he was not gonna fuck up the music of his very first film. No way. So when I saw that he was recording the film’s score in Paris, I got super excited. (For the record, I’m an African who grew up in Paris, so I’m super biased) And boy, did he deliver! Ghanaian highlife, modern day hip hop, traditional African music, strings, percussions, wind instruments… this score is so rich at times, while being minimalist at other times, depending on what the scenes are calling for. It speeds up or slows down the actions at will, perfectly marrying the pace of the film. I was surprised to read that Blitz didn’t start creating the score until after the filming was completely done, because it matches the film so well, you could believe that the story was inspired by it and not the opposite. That’s quite an achievement.
2. A WONDERFUL AND DELICIOUS COLLECTION OF STORIES WITHIN THE STORY
Folks… Knowing me is knowing that I absolutely love films that have a story within the story incorporated into them. (a “story within the story” is a storytelling technique in which one character from the main narrative narrates a secondary story) So, imagine my face when I realized that there were multiple secondary stories within the main story in “The Burial of Kojo”? What kind of Ghanaian-Russian dolls is that? Sign me up!
The most obvious “story within the story” in TBOK is the one narrated on TV through the fictional telenovela “Puebla Mi Amor”, which the main characters watch religiously, and that was created and shot especially for this film. Again, knowing me is knowing that I LOVE everything soap opera and telenovela, so clearly, I was all in for that ride! I know so many African families, mine included, that would watch the most ridiculous American soap operas or South American telenovelas on a regular basis together. That ode to the world of telenovelas was spot on.
There are many secondary stories that are told by the main characters and by the supporting characters through the film. Esi, the main character, is telling us the main story while recalling her childhood. There are also beautiful love stories told by the supporting characters, childhood stories told by the grandmother, Bible stories told by a pastor, and even a news story told through the radio by Samuel “Blitz” Bazawule himself, playing a news radio host. And all these stories are well written and extremely well delivered. I’m a sucker for good storytelling, so I have to give respect where respect is due.
3. AN ORIGINAL AND IN-DEPTH EXPLORATION OF AFRICAN FAMILY DYNAMICS
I love how TBOK looks at, explores, and dissects the main character Kojo’s family dynamics. The film offers us so much about how the main characters relate to one another,without having to say too much. It is so rare to see African characters that are extremely well-written, well-developed and well interpreted. Obviously, Blitz, a son of Ghana, where the film is set up, has put his heart into crafting and developing these characters, and I love seeing them interact with one another. I love Esi and Nana (her grandma)’s relationship. It’s very sweet to see them watching telenovelas together. Esi’s relationship with her mother Ama is interesting too, especially as it evolves during the course of the film. At the centre of the movie is also the tale of two brothers — Kojo and his older brother Kwabena — which makes up for good siblings stories. But, among all these family ties, my favorite relationship to watch unfold is the one between Esi and her father Kojo. Watching the bond that they have when they spend time together, playing, canoeing, or sharing stories on the roof of their house made my heart literally melt. It is super extra rare to see an African film explore a father-daughter relationship this way. A dark-skinned African man. Spending good quality time with his dark-skinned African daughter. My God… This tew much. You didn’t have to do me this way, Blitz. Nope. I’m not crying, you are. Which brings us to…
4. THE MAGIC OF TRUE AFRICAN STORYTELLING
I’m African. (from Congo, for those who don’t know) That means I grew up surrounded by storytellers: parents, siblings, aunties, uncles, cousins, play cousins… Everybody and their mothers had a story to tell during family reunions. There is a specific way of telling our African stories, that I rarely get to see when I watch mainstream movies that are dealing with Africa, most of the time, because they are written or produced by people who know very few things about the continent, don’t care about it, or don’t even try to understand it. “The Burial of Kojo”, on the contrary, hits all the right marks. I read somewhere in an interview that Blitz said he tried to write the film the way his own grandmother would tell him stories. For me, this approach worked 200%. I love the magical realism of the film, its color palette, the non-linear way that the story gets told, the way dreams, riddles and prophecies are used and are an important part of the story.
I love how immersive the camera is, especially during the car scenes. There are many car and taxi scenes where I had the feeling of being in the car, right there with the cast.
I love how relatable the brothers’ story is. I could see so many of my own uncles in Uncle Kwabena. (Kojo’s older brother) The late night visits, the animated discussions, the shared meals... It brought back many of my own childhood memories.
And, last but not least, I love that we get to see the story unfold in Twi (Ghanaian language). It made it more authentic, and I just loved listening to the beauty of this language. (with a little help from the subtitles) Speaking of beauty, let’s talk about…
5. THE OVERALL POETRY OF THE FILM
The poetry of the visuals, the story, the language, the sound design, the people…Everything about this film is pure poetry! Let’s. Dive. Right. Into. It!
The four elements (earth, air, fire, water) are used to tell the story, visually, and metaphorically, and that in itself, is poetry. How beautiful are these shots of a car on fire on the beach? I mean, from the first shot, Blitz is giving us a canevas of visual poetry. The way he shoots the water through the whole film is just >>> I am even lacking words to properly describe how it made me feel. There is something so soothing about the way he shot the ocean, the sea, the village surrounded by water, Kojo and Esi conoeing together on the water, African villagers traveling on the water… Pure poetry.
The voice over is very poetic too. Esi narrates the story for us, using beautiful metaphors and introducing us to places “where the sky meets the earth” and lands “where people walk upside down”, while we’re being treated with magnificent visuals.
And what about the scene where Esi’s parents meet for the first time? I’m not going to get into too many details, but basically, it’s love at first sight for these two, and it’s very very cute to watch. It’s the kind of love tales that we don’t get to see too often, especially within an African context, and with two dark-skinned individuals as the protagonists. (aka gorgeous actors Joseph Otsiman as Kojo, Esi’s father, and Mamley Djangmah as Ama, Esi’s mother)
6. THE LEVEL OF ATTENTION TO DETAILS IS UNREAL
“Nothing without intention. Do nothing without intention”, is what Solange Knowles likes to remind us on her latest album, “When I Get Home”, on a song that samples Omi Lola’s “Florida Water for cleansing and clearing.”
Well, in “The Burial of Kojo”, I think it’s safe to say that everything is intentional. Like, the level of attention to details is unreal. The pace, the editing, the actors’ facial expressions, the costumes’ design… Every shot has a specific meaning, every line of dialogue has a specific meaning. It is truly a well-crafted multilayered story. There are so many layers to unpack in just 80 minutes of this film. It is soooo rich. The level of attention to details is unreal. And so subtle at the same time… For instance, there is a scene where Kojo embraces his mom when he comes to visit her the first time, and it mirrors a scene happening on TV in “Puebla Mi Amor” at the same time, when the mom gets to greets her son. The way the shot was framed, the two scenes are happening very organically, simultaneously and symmetrically, for a couple of seconds. I swear, every time I watch this film, I see a new detail that I had not noticed before. As an audience member, I truly enjoy it. It feels like back in the day, when musicians were accustomed to include “hidden tracks” on their CDs.
7. A BEAUTIFUL EXPLORATION OF GRIEF
I won’t expand too much on it, but obviously, the film’s title is “The Burial of Kojo”, so I was expecting to see something related to that title. I loved how the film explored the ways in which we grieve, especially on the continent. It’s a closer look at how we cope, as African people, and at how we keep on going, even in the midst of tragedy.
8. A POWERFUL CRITIC OF COLONIALISM AND NEOCOLONIALISM
I won’t expand too much on it either, but TBOK takes some subtle shots at some neocolonialism issues as they pertain to West Africa, and especially to Ghana, where the film was shot. Among the many many themes that are explored in this movie (again, I can’t believe it’s only 80 minutes. There is so much to unpack. When it’s good, it’s good...), the impact of colonialism and neocolonialism on Africa and Africans is very obvious. And the critic is acerb — to say the least — against the neocolonial powers that are currently scrambling for Africa. Most of the characters who are representing these new powers don’t have much dialogue in the film (i.e. they don’t speak to the Ghanaian characters directly, or even don’t speak to them at all during the whole film), but their presence is heavily felt and known. The inequal division of power is obvious. There is a legendary scene where the African miners go and try to get paid for their hard work that is an absolute must-see. Actually, this scene should be mandatory watching and included in every African studies curriculum. It is such a good and efficient scene. Neocolonialism at its best. Well done, mister Bazawule.
9. ESI IS THE SUPERSHERO I DIDN’T KNOW I NEEDED
A 9 year-old dark skinned African girl is the hero of this movie. I repeat, a 9 year-old dark skinned African girl is the hero of this movie. Esi is truly the supershero I didn’t know I needed… Actually, all the Black women have interesting multidimensional parts to play in this movie: the grandmother who likes going to church and watching telenovelas, the seamstress mother who is totally drawn to the city life, and even Apalu’s mother (Kojo’s friend), has a background story that seems super interesting. But the main character remains Esi, a young Black girl with threaded afro hair, a growing intuition, and a love for stories, who is given a very very important mission to accomplish. Seriously. I want to travel back in time and make my 9 year-old self watch this story... That’s how much it meant to me.
10. BLACK SKIN, BLACK MASKS
Everybody’s skin looks so damn good in this movie. Everybody’s. Shout out to the DP and to the lighting crew. You all did an amazing job. The tones, the undertones, the different shades…Everything is there. Everybody’s black skin looks absolutely gorgeous, well moisturized, glowing and reflecting the sun like nobody’s business. What a beautiful thing to see! The production team really outdid itself at every level, so as to deliver the best final cut possible of this film, which leads us to…
11. HIGH QUALITY SET DESIGN, COSTUME DESIGN, AND SOUND DESIGN
Production-wise, I loved everything about “The Burial of Kojo”.
I don’t know what the total budget of the movie was (it’s an independent production, so I’m assuming they couldn’t go all crazy with their production budget the way Hollywood blockbusters can afford to), but in my humble opinion, the money was well spent in terms of set design, costume design and sound design.
Kojo and Ama’s house interior in the village surrounded by water is very cute. And it seems very accurate too. The family pictures on the shelves… Ama’s sewing machine... Esi’s bed... Again, attention to details. Nana’s house in the city is well designed too. When Esi tried to fix the old TV’s antenna, I could totally relate. (for you new kids out there, fixing a TV’s antenna could basically be the equivalent of trying to find good wifi in a poorly connected area nowadays)
Same with the costumes, they were very well designed. Kojo’s red shirt. Esi’s little white dress. The whole family’s white outfit when they go to church…Also, Ama is a seamstress, so she’s gonna give you these outfits and these headwraps. Yes ma’am! Not to mention the infamous gold dealer’s opulent shirt. There are plenty of things for our eyes to devour.
The natural hairstyles are amazing to look at too. Threaded hair, cornrows, low cut afros, full afros, two-strand twists etc. The hair department is always on point throughout the film. Whomever was a hairdresser on that set was working hard, ok?
Also, I know I’ve talked quite a lot about the score, but I must highlight once again that the film’s entire sound design is top notch. And everything is intentional, coming at the right moment to enhance a scene or a mood: the noise that the fan makes, the sound of the clock ticking, the sewing machine sound, all of the animal sounds…
Again, the more I watch this film (and I must have seen it 297 times at this point), the more amazed I am at the level of attention to details from the production.
12. MEMORABLE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS PLAYED BY AMAZING ACTORS
Last but not least, “The Burial of Kojo” is full of memorable supporting characters played by non less memorable actors. There is no small part. All the actors are on their A games, even when they’re here for just a short scene. The parts are all well written, and the actors are acting the hell out of them. Of course, shout out to the main cast whose performances help make the final cut of the film a true masterpiece (Cynthia Dankwa and Ama Abebrese as Esi, Joseph Otsiman as Kojo, Mamley Djangmah as Ama, Kobina Amissah-Sam as Kwabena, Henry Adofo as Apalu, Joyce Anima Misa Amoah as Nana), but I also deeply appreciated the performances of the actors playing smaller parts: Brian Angels is perfect as the shady and corrupted Sergeant Asare. Joe Addo aka Detective Koomson has only a few scenes but he is super convincing in all of them. I don’t know who plays the part of the gold dealer, but that actor absolutely killed his one and only scene. It’s also a testament to how well most of these scenes have been written: some characters are on screen for a few seconds or just a few minutes, but somehow, the audience feels like we know them intimately right away. Detective Koomson is “the best detective from a neighbouring town”, or so we learn from the voice over narrating the story. Apalu’s background story is gold too. We meet his mom only briefly, but she’s a very well written character too. She made me want to find out more about her. When good writing meets good acting, it makes for a pleasurable experience for the audience for sure.
But anyhow. Long story short, these are the 12 reasons why I absolutely recommend that you watch and rewatch the film “The Burial of Kojo”. I could write and add some more words, but let’s refrain from diving into the story even more. I recently read somewhere on these Internet streets that Blitz was now thinking about working on a second movie. And let me tell you that I am ready for whatever he has in store next. I was already a fan of Blitz the Ambassador the musician, now I’m officially a stan of Samuel Bazawule the filmmaker. Real talk. Give me more sir, I’m ready. And please come and screen your film in Toronto next time, so that a sister can enjoy your brilliance on a big screen. Or, if I need to travel all the way to Ghana to attend a screening, let me know cause I’m up for it too. The things I would do to support African cinema… Right? Well, for now, I’m just going to watch and rewatch “The Burial of Kojo” for the umpteenth time on Netflix. And you should too :-)