I Am Not a Witch
by Christie Robb
Zambian-born Welsh writer/director Rungano Nyoni’s first feature film is like Monty Python’s witch trial scene shot through lenses of patriarchy and economic exploitation.
It centers on a displaced young girl named Shula (Maggie Mulubwa), accused of witchcraft by members of her community.
Found guilty, she’s turned over to a government-run witch zoo filled with old women tied by ribbons to enormous spools who are by turns photographed by tourists and rented out as agricultural laborers. Thrilled to have a “young and fresh” witch in town, the Boss (Henry B.J. Phiri) selects her for choice assignments. Shula functions as a judge of sorts in a small claims court and takes a stab at predicting the weather before Boss brings her on national television as a mascot for an egg-selling scheme.
At first, Shula seems to try to make the best of it. After she successfully outs a thief, the Boss takes her home for a taste of the good life. Shula sees bougie furniture, nice clothes, an electric chandelier, and the Boss’s Wife—a former witch. Wife tells Shula that if she does everything she’s told, Shula might end up just like her and achieve “respectability.”
But, as it turns out, a wedding ring and a veneer of dignity aren’t all they are cracked up to be.
Satirical and quietly devastating, I Am Not a Witch is a fairy tale rooted in the dust.