We thought we’d heard enough stories about African child soldiers. We were wrong.
Artists, actors and writers continue to shock, sadden and awe us with brilliant new ways of telling sad stories about the cruel consequences of war.
There’s Oscar buzz surrounding “Beasts of No Nation,” a film based on the novel by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala. It’s a tale about Agu, a child soldier forced to fight in a civil war in an unnamed African country.
Newcomer Abraham Attah, 14, stars as the 11-year-old West African boy, Agu, alongside Hollywood veteran Idris Elba, who plays the role of the warlord, Commandant. The warlord takes a personal interest in Agu and teaches him war.
Abraham’s performance has been described as startlingly brilliant. “Beasts Of No Nation” had a glittering red carpet premiere in Toronto with Elba and Abraham.
One of the reasons people feel so good about Abraham’s story is that he’s an African youth in a demographic of impossibly high unemployment — one who rose from millions to international acclaim based on opportunity, raw talent and will.
The creative economy is one of the most rapidly growing sectors globally, Mail&Guardian reports. The exact contribution of African countries’ creative economies remains unknown for lack of reliable data, but it is significant.
There are 7 million-to-10 million youth looking for jobs every day, according to M&G. “Africa’s creative economy can trigger a value chain between artists, entrepreneurs, distributors and support services across multiple sectors to provide modern jobs.”
Here are 7 things you didn’t know about child actor Abraham Attah and his meteoric rise to fame.
A teenager from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, Abraham Attah won the Marcello Mastroianni Best Young Actor Award at the 2015 Venice Film Festival for his lead role in “Beasts of No Nation.”
The film also impressed critics at the Toronto Film Festival, where “Beasts” had a glitzy red carpet premiere with Idris Elba and Abraham.
There have been many films in recent years that highlight child soldiers and the African war narrative — narratives like”War Witch” (filmed in the Congo, set in another nameless African country) and “Johnny Mad Dog,” and documentaries like “Soldier Child,” “War Dance,” and “Invisible Children,” writes commentator Zeba Blay.
“These films obviously have the potential to educate and spread awareness. But they have the equal potential of perpetuating a single story about Africa,” Blay said.
CNN cites the film’s director, Cary Fukunaga, saying that Abraham was working as a street vendor in Accra before being randomly chosen to take part in casting workshops for the film.
VenturesAfrica reports that Abraham was a street vendor before the film was shot, according to Fukunaga. He had “zero film experience, little education…but he became a somewhat professional actor, which was astounding to watch,” Fukunaga said at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year.
GhanaWeb reports that Abraham has been mistakenly identified as a street child by some media.
“Abraham Attah is not a street child,” according to GhanaWeb. “He stays with his parent here in Ashiaman, Accra, Ghana. He was not picked up on the street for the movie ‘Beasts of No Nation.’ He was spotted amongst other kids playing football on a park by the casting team who spoke to him about the film and he introduced them to his parent. And went through the audition process.”
At a Venice press conference, Abraham said, “We were playing football on our school field when a white man came and said, ‘We need some boys for a movie. We went to a TV station in Ghana for an audition and…I was cast.'”
Fukunaga said “He was playing hooky from school.”
Sources: CNN, GhanaWeb, VenturesAfrica
“Beasts of No Nation” teen star Abraham Attah is headlining Netflix’s first original feature movie.
Traditionally, films wait 90 days after cinema screenings to be released online. Netflix caused controversy when it announced the movie will premiere simultaneously online and in cinemas, CNN reported. This led some major U.S. movie theater chains to reject it.
Netflix picked up “Beast of No Nation” earlier this year after a bidding war that ended with the streaming platform paying $12 million for rights to release it, according to IndieWire. The film will debut Oct. 16 everywhere Netflix is available, and on the same day in select U.S. theaters, in a partnership with distribution company Bleecker Street.
“The move is a dramatic shake-up to the traditional movie distribution model,” FastCompany reports. That distribution model held that films must first be released in theaters. “This business is already being chipped away by various players but no one is busting it up with quite as much fanfare as Netflix.”
Abraham outshines Elba from his first scene to his last, according to Huffington Post. He might just be this year’s Quvenzhané Wallis — the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Hushpuppy in the drama, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
At a Venice press conference, Abraham admitted to feeling intimidated by British actor, Elba, VenturesAfrica reports. “I felt like an ant,” he said.
The subject matter for “Beasts of No Nation” — a drama about child soldiers recruited during an African civil war — is powerful. Abraham’s performance pushes it from good to excellent, according to HuffingtonPost. The 14-year-old had never acted before meeting Fukunaga. He was playing soccer near his home in Accra, Ghana, when he learned about the audition. He cried during the audition.
“It’s no surprise Attah’s performance already won him the Best Young Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival, and it would be even less surprising if he ends up nominated for an Oscar,” Huffington Post reported.
Source: HuffingtonPost, VenturesAfrica
U.S. film director, writer, and cinematographer Cary Fukunaga wrote the screen adaptation of Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala’s book, “Beasts of No Nation.”
Filmed mainly in Ghana with a mostly local Ghanaian cast and crew, the film uses Ghanaian language and culture to create Agu’s world, but like the book it’s based on, it’s set in a nameless African country. The only African country mentioned in the film is Nigeria, according to Huffington Post commentary by Zeba Blay.
“The political history of Ghana has not been perfect or unblemished, but there has, to date, never been the kind of rebel warfare and child soldiers depicted in this film,” Blay wrote. “What was jarring, unsettling, was the use of Ghana as the stand-in for this kind of narrative. The film actively erased a real history for the sake of plot.”
You can watch the Netflix trailer here on Youtube.
Source: HuffingtonPost, Youtube
During auditions, Abraham cried in an improvised scene in which his sister was taken away, BusinessInsider reported. This impressed film director Fukunaga, whose work includes gangster drama “Sin Nombre,” the 2011 film “Jane Eyre” and the TV drama “True Detective.”
“It just showed that he had access to emotions in a way that we were looking for,” the director said.
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