In a time riddled with uncertainty and societal degradation, there is nothing like art to help lighten up the spirits of people. Thus far, 2020 has been an exciting year for the Zimbabwean film industry. Not only did Zimbabwe witness its genesis movie launch on Netflix (Cook Off), the nation is also awaiting the highly-anticipated premiere of the ground-breaking, anti-poaching film (Gonarezhou). On top of that, Zimbabweans and the world gets to enjoy the new offering titled “Shaina”. Shaina is a movie about resilience, faith, grace and a genuinely touching human story at the centre. This movie confirms my suspicions of the dawn of a new movie-making era in Zimbabwean filmmaking.
Shaina is a coming-of-age film that centres on a teenage girl named Shine (Wilmah Munemera) growing up under difficult circumstances in modern-day Zimbabwe. Her closest companions are her three best friends, her guardian angel named Zororo (Tinodiwanashe Chitima) and her wise grandmother (played by acting legend Jesesi Mungoshi). When things take a turn for the worst, Shine must stretch her talents like never before to survive the dangers that the unforgiving world throws at her. We are also invited into the lives of Shine’s friends whose stories are also very authentic, day to day tales that we experience either ourselves or through our close ones. The oldest, Stella (Gamu Mukwakwami), puts herself in danger to take care of her family. Faro (Tadiwa Marowa) is keeping a secret from her deeply religious mother, and there is Busi (Tarumbidzwa Chirume) whose family is battling with an illness.
It was refreshing to see a host of new faces grace our screens. Munemera invites you to fall in love with her character the moment she blazes onto the screen. The energy of her performance anchors the story, which at times can be entirely predictable. The bond between Shine and her three friends is so believable it makes you wish you had a gang of friends like that. Chitima is charming in his role as Shine’s guardian angel. At the same time, Mungoshi does wonders in her role as Shine’s grandmother (though her dialogue is often limited to providing wisdom tokens and advice to the younger generations).
Edmore Sandifolo nails his role like a boss in playing Shine’s dubious uncle, leaving the audience uneasy and questioning his morality and motives each second. A usual culprit to the Zimbabwean stage and screen, Charmaine Mujeri makes the most of her supporting role as a strict mother, transcending each scene in which she features and leaving you wanting more. As a whole, the cast was great. Blending old generation and new generation, the director skilfully brings the best out of her actors.
The character Busi’s plotline required more depth, in my opinion. Chirume shows outstanding promise as an actress, and I wish she had received more material to work with. The most significant part of the movie was the director’s empathy in her gallant direction. The director does an excellent job in making you care about these characters, their circumstances and lives. No needless scenes. The script was well written. The dialogue is mostly in English and blends with pieces of dialogue in Shona and Ndebele (both native languages in Zimbabwe). I understand how this makes a lot of sense to reach a wider audience. However, it can be problematic because the actors’ delivery seemed forced and unnatural at times.
The decision to tell the story of four separate girls was commendable in that it helped the writers to explore different dimensions of the challenges that girls face. These include issues such as child-headed families, old generation versus new generation, sexual abuse, the pursuit of dreams in the face of difficulty, etc.
The story arc, in general, gives for a very cathartic viewing experience. Thumbs up to the creators for using popular Zimbabwean music in their soundtrack; it was great to listen to centric music now and then during the movie.
I did take issue with some minor details. Though set in Zimbabwe, the movie had a few elements such as costumes and set which stick out as foreign to the Zimbabwean context. Some parts of the dialogue came across as preachy; mainly when Shine and her friends receive occasional lectures from their guardians and health officials.
Shaina is a powerful movie that aims to reinforce a sense of resilience and the healing power of belief in the youth and particularly young women. Girls and women are still the victims of a patriarchal, old-fashioned society that looks down upon them. These are realities that the movie tackles without apology. The purpose of this film is to help educate not only the younger generation but older generations on the way forward for our society.
The movie is a PG, but it is an engaging tale for all to see. Shaina is a must-watch movie for the whole family. The timing of the movie’s release is also perfect―a time people of colour want to be seen as they are and not just a stereotype.
Is it too early to be expecting a renaissance in Zimbabwean filmmaking? Think again. Shaina (which is an informal term for glow in Shona) is a glowing example of the future of storytelling from Zimbabwe. With its filmmakers’ resilience as the wind beneath its wings, Zimbabwe’s film industry is set to soar.