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Bobi Wine: The People's President
Bobi Wine: Ghetto President

Directed by Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp
Produced by John Battsek and Christopher Sharp
With: Bobi Wine, and Barbie Kyagulanyi
Cinematography: Moses Bwayo, Sam Benstead, and Michele Sibiloni
Editing: Paul Carlin
Music: Dan Jones
Runtime: 113 min
Release Date: 28 October 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

I've seen a few documentaries about political elections, movements, and/or journalism in African nations. Many consist of a lot of first-person footage of rallies held in hot, outdoor settings where hundreds of people gather to listen to officials and candidates speaking through megaphones and loudspeakers. Perhaps epitomized best by Camilla Nielsson's excellent 2014 documentary Democrats, about Zimbabwe following the contentious 2008 election and the subsequent coalition effort to rewrite the country's constitution, this type of important film can be a strain on Western eyes and ears if one is unfamiliar with the language, dialects, depth of issues, and long, regional histories. Often, these films don't provide what we Westerners love (and kinda need) so much: a protagonist we can get excited about.

Such is not the case with Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo's first-rate documentary Bobi Wine: The People's President. The Ugandan-British-American co-production chronicles the rise of the popular, Gettho-born Ugandan pop singer, who successfully ran for a seat in parliament and launched a presidential campaign that threatened Uganda's long-ruling regime leader Yoweri Museveni. Bobi Wine is not only young and charismatic; his songs are incredibly catchy. Many became anthems for the country's young revolutionaries. (Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, yet it's also one of the last remaining autocratic governments in that part of the world). When Museveni spearheaded a referendum to change the country's constitution and lift the presidential age limit, allowing him to remain in power, Bobi's political career began. He ran for office to fight that change, winning the election but failing to prevent the constitutional amendment. This leads to him mounting a campaign for president.

Bobi is also a rare combination of idealist and pragmatist. He's painfully aware that Museveni was a member of the National Resistance Movement in 1996 when he first came to power, promising to restore security and respect for human rights. So Bobi, a positive, inspiring, pro-democracy candidate, knows full well that power corrupts and can turn a young, freedom-loving revolutionary into an old, brutal dictator.

Sharp and Bwayo's access to Bobi Wine and his wife, Barbie Kyagulanyi, is phenomenal. We seem to be with them at every step over several years: at rousing speeches where the camera is up on the truck or platform with Bobi, not off in the crowd somewhere, and during harrowing arrests, beatings, riots, and raids where Bobi, his wife, his young children, his colleagues, and his supporters are in grave danger from the police and the corrupt, flagrantly anti-democratic Museveni government. The filmmakers get a little bit into Uganda's relationships with the US and Europe, though I wish more specifics could have been offered regarding the role Global politics play in how Uganda is governed. The second half of the picture wavers a bit, alluding to torture and other atrocities but not showing them with the consistency of the first half. Still, the film builds tension and genuine suspense, even if you know the election's outcome.

The film was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar, won the previous year by another documentary about a popular, charismatic opposition leader challenging a brutal and nearly all-powerful autocratic leader—Daniel Roher's Navalny. Watching Bobi Wine: The People's President, we are filled with a similar sense we got from Navalny, an unusual blend of hope and futility about the future.

Twitter Capsule:

With phenomenal access and a dynamic subject, Christopher Sharp and Moses Bwayo chronicle the presidential campaign of the popular, Ghetto-born Ugandan pop singer and parliamentarian.