After 21 years, Tanzania has finally submitted a new film for International Feature. Directed impeccably by Amil Shivji, Tug of War is set during the 1950s when Zanzibar was still a British protectorate and was ruled by Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah.
The films starts out with Denge wanting to free Zanzibar. He’s part of a small group of men who are trying to overthrow the government. He’s tired of maintaining his silence after centuries of slavery, British colonialism and oppression. He distributes pamphlets that says “We are not your slaves” but he wants to do more. He meets Yasmin one evening, a young Indian-Zanzibari who has run away from her husband. Her marriage was pre-arranged to a man three times her age after she was pulled from school because they were worried she would start attracting boys.
Their connection is immediate, all it took was that one glance across the room. And thus begins their love story and their fight for freedom.
Shivji has created a beautiful film set in the tiny African island in the Indian Ocean. The small streets, the atmospheric music, the slow motion sequences on Yasmin and Denge’s faces, the colours of red, the light blue ocean. The beauty of Zanzibar is truly captured.
Freedom is the only solution when one nation subjugates another, taking over their population and forcing its own language and cultural values upon the people living there. Our destinies should be in our own hands. The people of Zanzibar wanted to be free. And their fight needed to happen. In the game of tug of war, there can only be one winner, but the struggle to get there is costly, and lives will be lost. One can only praise those brave individuals, like Denge and Yasmin, who fought their way to independence by dragging their oppressors across the central line to victory.