Skip to navigationSkip to content

The story of the Malawian boy who saved his village with a wind turbine comes to Netflix

Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
Director and screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor and actors William Kamkwamba, Maxwell Simba, Aissa Maiga promote the movie in Berlin Feb. 12, 2019.
This article is more than 2 years old.

As a southern African country, Malawi’s neighbors South Africa and Zimbabwe usually get all the coverage when it comes to global popular culture: both for good and bad. It’s probably why Malawians have been hotly anticipating the new Netflix feature film on a true Malawi story.

It stars, and is directed by, British-Nigerian Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and is adapted from a book by a Malawian author and innovator William Kamkwamba.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is set in 2001 Malawi with the Kamkwamba family struggling to make ends meet but parents Trywell (Ejiofor) and Agnes (Aissa Maiga) remained focused on their children’s education, despite the financial cost. Their 13-year old son William (Maxwell Simba) is forced to leave school due to money problems, but he is determined to help not only his family but a village facing famine. To this end, he builds a wind turbine which helps farmers to irrigate their land.

Screenshot of trailer
Max Simba and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from the movie

The film, which was shot in Malawi, is released globally on Netflix on Mar. 1 2019. It’ll be a chance for Malawi to shake loose the most recent global pop culture reference of Madonna’s controversy in the adoption of David Banda back in 2006. In fact, the only time Malawi gets international coverage in popular culture is when the pop singer visits Malawi.

But even with the excitement, not everyone in Malawi is pleased after seeing the trailer. There have been familiar gripes about inauthenticity with a British-Nigerian actor playing a lead role and the accents and languages being not as on point as they could have been.

Netflix has been making a big push to build its African TV shows and movies from scratch. The global streaming giant’s $8 billion budget on original content has accommodated space for more African content in its programming. Late last year the streaming service purchased worldwide rights to Lionheart which was its first original film from Nigeria which stars renowned Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji. It also announced plans for its first original African series which is expected to debut is from South Africa, titled Queen Sono.

In some ways, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is almost a return to its first high-profile African-related movie, 2015’s Beasts of No Nation, which also starred a British-African actor in Idris Elba, young African child actors and was based on a novel by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala.

Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech and innovation in your inbox

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.