If you loved Parasite, try these African movies about hustling
A modern Shakespearean tale of sorts, Bong Joon-Ho’s critically acclaimed Parasite, now on Showmax, is described as, “A tale of two families from opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum told with the trademark genre-fluidity that has seen Bong’s back catalogue slip seamlessly from murder mystery, via monster movie, to dystopian future-fantasy and beyond.”
The film’s narrative unfolds through the separate and intersecting stories of the wealthy Park family, and on the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, the impoverished Kim family, who are, as IGN says, “rich in street smarts and but not much else.”
As with his previous works such as Okja and Snowpiercer — the latter recently being adapted into a series for Netflix — Joon-Ho’s Parasite is riddled with social commentary, this time with the director making a cinematic statement on the failures of modern capitalism, socio-economic inequality and class aspiration.
While the film has been compared to Hollywood movies such as director Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You (2018) and the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading (2008), this list looks specifically at African films, and movies set in Africa, about the type of hustling that comes with climbing the aspirational ladder, making them similar to Parasite.
“Welcome to Lusaka. You can’t be slow in Lusaka, if you don’t hustle in Lusaka my friend, then you are probably the one being hustled”, declares the film’s narrator Matteo during Black Dollar’s opening sequence, in a mixture of English and Nyanja.
I find myself immediately thinking of the South African film Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema (2008) based on a true story — as its protagonist Lucky Kunene narrates, “in the new South Africa, you can go a long way with a smile. You can go much further with a smile and a gun.”
Directed by David Kazadi, Black Dollar follows a young man as he attempts to pull off a scam that will hustle a local politician out of a huge sum of cash. However, as with every good story, there is an unexpected obstacle along the way; what happens when the politician realises he is being hustled?
Directed by seasoned comedian Kagiso Lediga, Matwetwe (2018) is a quintessential coming of age story told with South African flair and imagination. The film follows two friends, Lefa and Papi, who live in Atteridgeville, a township in Pretoria, and have just finished high school, now stepping into the next chapter — I mean hustle — of their lives.
Papi considers himself the entrepreneurial-spirited one, while Lefa, who is the coy nerd of the duo, has his sights set on studying “botany” at Wits University. As Matwetwe begins, our ears are greeted by the familiar DJ Mujava banger “Mugwanti wa Pitori”, making the statement that context is significant in the film’s story.
As the film unfolds, one begins to realise that although, like Joon-Ho’s Parasite, Matwetwe grapples with the theme of hustling, at its heart it is also a story about growing up and male friendship, where “botany” has more meanings than one would expect.
Nigerian Prince (Netflix)
Directed by Faraday Okoro and part of the Tribeca Film Festival Official Selection, Nigerian Prince (2018) follows the story of relentlessly stubborn, first generation American-born Eze, who is the son of Nigerian immigrant parents.
Eze is sent by his mother to his ancestral homeland of Nigeria to learn who he is and to connect to his culture and history. Upon arriving in the country, and realising that his mother bought him a one-way ticket, Eze teams up with scammer cousin, Pius, in a desperate attempt to make money to get him back to the USA.
While dealing with the theme of hustling and being hustled on the internet in our modern age, along with issues of identity and home, Nigerian Prince is also a film that speaks to Afro-diasporic experiences.
The Set Up (Netflix)
“Trust no-one, believe nothing” – that’s the official hashtag for the Niyi Akinmolayan-directed Nollywood film The Set Up (2019), a layered story about fortune, inheritance and how money disrupts trust — even within family.
A refreshing aspect of Akinmolayan’s film is that women form the epicentre of its story: The Set Up “revolves around the life of a young woman, Chike, who drops her childhood innocence as she delves into a criminal life for survival. She gets more than she bargains for and is drawn into a web of deceit when she is hired by a conniving pair looking to get revenge on a family they both were once part of.”
Although the storyline does get rather complicated and at times difficult to follow, and even though The Set Up is far more on the action side of the genre scale than Bong Joon-Ho’s Academy Award-winning film, the Nollywood film is still worth a watch for fans of Parasite.