Owen Gleiberman
June 12, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Mama Africa

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
Unrated
runtime
89 minutes
Limited Release Date
06/07/02
performer
Brian Briagi, Queen Latifah
distributor
Wellspring
genre
Drama

We gave it a B-

The three stories that make up Mama Africa, a cautionary triptych hosted by Queen Latifah, were all shot by different filmmakers. Yet they are unified by something far more eye-opening than their crude prosaic style would suggest. In each of the three, a young man or woman — in Nigeria, Namibia, and South Africa, respectively — is faced with a crushing lack of opportunity and, at the same time, a path out of the dead end that hinges on severe moral compromise. A young single mother is inveigled to smuggle diamonds, another is asked to return to her coke-dealing past (she has just served five years in prison for it), and, in the most hard-hitting episode, an impoverished basketball player on the verge of a tryout is invited to join up with a gangster for a chance to get the new athletic shoes he needs to succeed.

The twist is this: Several of the characters do make their deal with the devil — and the film doesn’t disapprove, exactly. It doesn’t approve, either. It understands, in a way that speaks forcefully enough about the mechanisms of poverty to transcend the rather simplistic filmmaking.

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