Zambian Netflix film addresses issues of prejudice for albinos in Africa

By CDI Staff |

The new Zambian film, “Can You See Us” released for international distribution by Netflix in August 2023, shines light on the prejudice faced by individuals with albinism in Africa through the journey of a boy named Joseph. The film is inspired by Zambian musician John Chiti who was born with this rare disability which affects pigmentation in hair, skin and eyes and can cause vision problems. John’s early life mirrors the struggles of the main character in the film, Joseph.

Viewers experience the main character’s painful life of daily discrimination from his peers and even his own family. At birth, Joseph is labelled a ‘mwambi’ or a demon, a title that exposes public perceptions. After returning home from the hospital Joseph’s father, with help from his side of the family, throw Joseph and his mother out of their home. His father then divorces his mother. 

The movie also showcases the importance of acceptance and love. Joseph’s mother and stepfather form his main support system until their tragic death in a car accident. Sarah, Joseph’s aunt, helps shield him as much as she can from external realities. One character, Daniel, a skilled guitarist, goes beyond acceptance to mentorship. Daniel contributes greatly to Joseph’s musical journey and his success in a musical career.

In 2017, the UN reported that over a 10-year period more than 600 attacks on children and adults with albinism were reported in 28 countries. According to the report, these attacks include the hacking of body parts whether the victims are alive or dead. Between 2014 and 2023, more than 170 albinos have been killed or attacked in Malawi alone. 

“Body parts of people with albinism are believed to have powers, to make wealth, to cure diseases,” said Chiti. “And because of that, many people with albinism are hunted and killed. It’s a crime, it’s murder, it’s assault.” According to a VOA report, the motivation for most perpetrators is the relatively high market price that “ranges from $2,000 for a limb to $75,000 for a full set of body parts.”

The UN theme for the International Awareness Day for people living with Albinism in 2023 was ‘Inclusion is Strength’ which highlights that there is an element of non-inclusion and prejudice still prevalent in some African countries. 

Ikponwosa Ero, an expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism says there have been great strides at local and policy-making levels in Africa. In her foreword in a publication in 2021, she states that in 2019, the AU Executive Council adopted the Regional Action Plan on Albinism as a continent-wide policy, making the first regional mechanism to address eliminating discrimination and violence against persons with albinism.

Chiti is an advocate to ratify the African Disability Protocol which aims to create a framework to create disability laws in African nations. These laws would benefit people with all types of disabilities.