Review: Bad Black

Distributor: American Genre Film Archive
Director: Nabwana Isaac Geoffrey Godfrey
Writer: Alan Hofmanis & Nabwana Isaac Geoffrey Godfrey
Composer: N/A
Starring: Nalwanga Gloria, Alan Hofmanis, Bisaso Dauda, V.J. Emmie

Genre: Action/Comedy
Rating: N/A

In the past decade, Wakaliwood has gone from a small group of amateur filmmakers in Uganda, to a meme, to a beloved internationally renowned film studio. This first film, the over-the-top so-bad-it’s-good action/comedy Who Killed Captain Alex became a viral phenomenon. Now they’re back with the second internationally released film Bad Black!

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Brawling, punching, shooting, explosions, blood spurts.

Language/Crude Humor: Some language throughout, most of the film is in Ugandan subtitled.

Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink at a bar.

Sexual Content: None.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Content: Casual violence, vengeance, and murder.

Positive Content: Characters seek justice and try to bring order to the world.

Review

Full Disclosure: The film’s producer Alan Hofmanis was kind enough to provide Geeks Under Grace with a review code for Bad Black prior to release.

What is Wakaliwood? In order to understand that is we need to understand the studio’s founder Nabwana Isaac Geoffrey Godfrey. Born and raised in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, his life has faced many hardships having survived a civil war and severe poverty. To date, he’s never been able to step into a movie theater and he’s not able to leave the country because of his country’s broken ID system. In spite of his circumstances, IGG found immense love in entertainment. Inspired by his love of American blockbusters and television shows and Asian Martial Arts films, he took it unto himself to become a filmmaker inspite of the odds.

In order to achieve his dream of making an explosively huge action movie, he took online editing classes, taught himself how to animate CGI on a homemade computer and sold all of his possessions to buy a video camera. He never expected this would achieve much. Initially he only sold his movies within his hometown door to door for the first few weeks after the film was finished. After that, people would immediately start bootlegging his films. To date he’s produced upwards of forty films, most of which have been lost due to technical failures or due to the need to clear space off of IGG’s hard drive.

By all means, IGG’s films should have fallen into obscurity. Thanks to the internet, something different happened. Wakaliwood became internationally known when a trailer for his film Who Killed Captain Alex was uploaded to YouTube in 2010 and rapidly accrued enormous viral popularity. To date, it has over 3.3 million views. The entire film has since been uploaded to YouTube by the official Wakaliwood YouTube page. Though first largely absorbed by the culture as a meme, it quickly became apparent that there was something more special going on behind the scenes of these strange, over the top action sequences with hilarious CGI.

Prominent online film reviewers like Film Crit Hulk and I Hate Everything gave it a new life by reexamining the film, listening to the commentary tracks and realizing just how wonderful and unique Nabwana IGG’s life story was. Vice even did a documentary in 2015 where they traveled to Uganda and met the crew. These movies were more than the mere accomplishment of making a movie in a difficult part of the world, they were filmmakers making wonderful exciting entertainment despite their circumstances. An appreciation has built online for the immense amount of work that goes into making these movies. In a third world country, IGG is making massive, exciting action films with car crashes, helicopter chases, shoot outs, kung fu action, and tragic over-the-top performances. All of this is accomplished with local actors, passion, and a budget of less than $200.

The demand for more Wakaliwood built as the studio has gained more fame and support in the past several years. In 2016, Wakaliwood did its first theatrical premiere with its second film and received international attention. The premiere of Bad Black at Fantastic Fest 2016 in Austin, Texas was something to behold for the lucky few in attendance. For fun, the film was given a custom introduction specifically for the audience at the Alamo Drafthouse and members of the audience were given the opportunity to be actors in the next Wakaliwood film in which they would be dying of Ebola.

The film was introduced by Alan Hofmanis, a former American film festival curator who moved to Uganda to help Wakaliwood with their movies. Alan has become a well-known player at Wakaliwood, helping to act in and write new films while serving as the studio’s PR. He’s become the public face of the company and with his help, Wakaliwood was able to go international. Now two and a half years later, Bad Black is finally receiving a Blu-ray release which comes with Who Killed Captain Alex.

The unique style that Wakaliwood shoots is a frenetic fusion of different forms of cinema. As stated before, IGG has an abiding love for the films of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. He’s effectively drawn upon the impulses of Cannon Group-style shoot-em-up movies, martial arts physicality, and Ugandian culture into a new kind of cinema. In a sense, the comparisons of IGG to Tarantino i’ve seen some say on the internet make are appropriote. He’s not just making Ugandan Deathwish III or Ugandan Enter the Dragon. He’s making uniquely Ugandan movies using the language of cinema.

As such, the most notable thing anyone is going to immediately take away from these films is the action scenes. Amateurish as they might be at some parts, they never stop being entertaining. These movies are meant to be exciting above all else. Bad Black does especially well with this. IGG seems to scale back some of the most ambitious set pieces to make them more manageable. Outside of the most gratuitous (and hilarious) moments of the opening car chase involving chroma-keyed toy cars and clip-art explosions, there’s a greater focus to on-the-ground action scenes than in Who Killed Captain Alex. As a result, Bad Black feels a lot weightier and impactful than its predecessor.

After two viewings of the film, I find a description of the plot eludes me somewhat. Set against the slums of Uganda, we follow the story of Bad Black, a girl abandoned by her family at a young age who finds herself drawn into a group of runaway teenagers being harassed by a “Commando.” In this universe, Commandos are all-purpose martial art/mercenaries who either serve the public good or run around harassing children. A decade after the girl has grown up, she’s now seeking vengeance on the streets. At the same time, an American doctor named Alan Ssali begins training with a highly-skilled martial arts wielding child named Wesley Snipes to become a Commando and bring justice to the streets.

Naturally the best part of any Wakaliwood movie is the SUPA action. As silly as the premise sounds, the movie doesn’t shy away from drama. The most surprising scene in my first viewing of the film came early on when the children are being threatened by a rogue Commando. The tension was palpable. I wasn’t expecting such a bleak, humanity-driven scene in the midst of such over the top action. It goes to show just how much Ugandan culture drives the logic and stakes of this film. These characters all exist as reactions to problems growing up amongst the poverty-stricken in their country.

Scenes like this in an otherwise pulpy, low budget film might come across as tonally incongruent but the movie’s strongest asset ends up being its self-awareness. This is balanced by the film’s video joker. The concept is novel by non-Ugandan film standards but there is evidently a shared social component in public presentations of films in Uganda in which they will be accompanied by live commentary from a comedian. I’ve heard a lot of people encountering the Video Joker for the first time find it offputting but it quickly grows on you. You realize just how much having a comedy by the creators of the film does to ease gratuitous violence and occasionally lacking pacing with well-placed jokes. The result is that the story constantly has an air of irony to it that grants the audience emotional investment while still being able to laugh with the movie at it’s insanity.

Bad Black is a miraculous film with a deeply touching history behind it. If it had been made before the age of the internet, it would’ve never been known outside of IGG’s small group of friends and family in Uganda but now it’s available for the world to enjoy. Wakaliwood only seems to be growing in prominence. They even have a third film Crazy World currently being subtitled which may be released later this year. In an age when diverse filmmaking is finally breaking through, Wakaliwood stands as a unique voice in the crowd. It’s great that American directors like Ryan Coogler, Barry Jenkins, Boots Riley, and Ava DuVernay are finally being given a major place in the culture to make great films. At the same time, the modern technological revolution has given the voices of people trapped in the third world a chance to speak and build an audience on an international stage. Anyone can pick up a camera and make a film. Who Killed Captain Alex, Bad Black, and soon Crazy World are living proof of it.

Bad Black will be available on Amazon on May 14th! The film is available to pre-order now!

Positives

+ Over-the-top Action + Hilarious VJ Commentary + Great Action Choreography

Negatives

- Occassionally Silly Special Effects - Occassionally Nonsensical Story Logic

The Bottom Line

Bad Black is special. Coming from the circumstances that birthed it, it's downright miraculous. Before the internet, a group of passionate filmmakers from the slums of Uganda wouldn't have ever succeeded in becoming international action stars. Now the wonderful people of Wakaliwood are international SUPA stars making some of the most entertaining action movies you can watch!

 

7.5

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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