Neptune Frost (2021)

Neptune Frost, a visionary collaboration between poet/musician Saul Williams and actress and playwright Anisia Uzeyman, is a unique Afro-futurist political musical filmed in Rwanda.

New Hacks

by Alexa Dalby

Neptune Frost

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Neptune Frost is unlike anything you’ve yet seen: a bold Afro-futurist take on African identity in a sci-fi musical. Set in Rwanda, it’s a visionary collaboration between poet/musician and artist Saul Williams and actress and playwright Anisia Uzeyman.

The historical Neptune Frost, after whom presumably the film is named, was the freed slave of Gideon Frost, He was a black Revolutionary soldier (also called Nipton) who served in the Continental Army in America in 1775. He fought in the battle of Lexington and Concord.

Central to Neptune Frost, the film, is the fact that Africa was exploited in the past through slavery for its human resources. And that today, world powers deprive the continent of development by brutally extracting its valuable mineral resources, particularly coltan for mobile phones, although ironically its miners, working under overseers in conditions of slavery, cannot afford mobiles themselves. The miners who make the music we hear in the opening scene are played by refugee Burundi drummers.

Neptune Frost has many targets. it attacks capitalism, the legacy of colonialism, the repressive government (the Authority), the US and China, and binary gender roles.

Central character, gender-fluid Neptune, wanders across a dystopian technological wasteland to a hacker camp, and unobtrusively changes sex, being played at different times by Elvis Ngabo or Cheryl Isheja. Frost possibly is a magical (hand-made) messenger bird that re-appears between scenes. The other central character is Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse), a coltan miner, who runs away after his brother is killed. Neptune and Matalusa eventually connect, though that is not the main theme of the narrative. The synopsis says that their love child triggers a revolution against the authoritarian regime. Maybe.

Computer special effects are mixed with magical realism, music and song. There are allegorically named characters, such as Memory, Psychology and Innocent, and characters in the hacker camp who wear clothes and hats made of computer parts.

There’s even a cameo by singing star Cécile Kayirebwa as a nun. The spontaneous songs that arise throughout can celebrate lives or criticise the government.

Neptune Frost is so densely layered and dazzlingly psychedelic that sometimes it’s hard to know what really happens.

It’s weirdly fascinating, but at times tantalisingly slow and raw. The film is a gigantic rebellion metaphor that began life as a graphic novel. Sometimes it has the rough-and-ready feel of a dreamlike, community production. Interestingly, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and Stephen Hendel (Fela!) are executive producers. It is a uniquely creative African vision made in Africa by an African cast and crew: it is so unusual it must be seen.

Neptune Frost premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Queer Palm Award. It screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 4 November 2022 in the UK.

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