Film: Tales of the Accidental City

Director’s Statement

How do you write a story about a city that you both love and loathe?

Nairobi, like many other African metropoles, is a city of glaring inequalities. Leafy neighbourhoods are surrounded by feeder slums. The wage gap is so drastic that the Kenya Central Bank CEO earns 256 million Kenyan Shillings in salaries, bonuses and other benefits, which is 339 times more than the average worker and three times more than the World Bank president. Corruption in Kenya is so pervasive that even in a pandemic when unemployment is at its highest, ‘COVID-19 Millionaires’ are being born through theft, bribery and racketeering. It is a city that makes me angry to the core.

And yet Nairobi is where people come to make their dreams come true. I too came here in search of a dream ten years ago. It is a place of mayhem and magic. A space where lives collide and are often spat out again.

In order to show the different faces of the city, I was privileged to work with other Kenyan writers – Sitawa Namwalie, Kevin Mwachiro and Margaret Muthee. Their short stories in a collection entitled Humans of Nairobi provided the diversity of perspectives that I wanted. I plucked out characters from their stories and put them in a room together to birth Tales of the Accidental City. These four characters would not ordinarily be in a room together, not in our stratified city! But stuck in a court-mandated therapy class, they have no choice but to reveal themselves. For example, Jacinda, a feisty domestic worker who is not afraid to speak truth to power, is able to fully confront the privileged Louis Njoroge, grandson of the first African mayor of Nairobi – a man whose internalised baggage makes him a parody of the post-colonial African bourgeoisie despite his attempts to make a difference in society. Sarah Obama represents the ‘invisible’ people in the city, and the youth for whom this country and continent is meant to belong, but who are not given the opportunity to thrive. Diana, like the other women in the film, is strong and determined to make a better life for herself, but she is not of the city and has to discover its harsh realities from the moment she arrives from her village.

I originally wrote Tales of the Accidental City for the stage. This film was literally born out of the Covid 19 pandemic. As a theatre actor and director with no experience in film, I had the challenge of ‘how to turn a play into a film’ when theatres worldwide shut their doors. It was a challenge I fully accepted and enjoyed. My creative limits expanded and I hope that through this film, I have captured a unique moment in our human history. What is more ubiquitous today than a Zoom meeting?

My hope for the film is that it is watched in communities, especially by Africans, so that it can spark conversations around inequality, social justice, urbanisation and mental health, as well as spur citizens to demand more.

Thank you!


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