FILM REVIEW: SAKAWA.
THE ADVENT OF the internet and social media offered the sex work industry interesting avenues of digression. They’re avenues which take the notion of exploitation to a new, international height, as they present an understanding of sex work which doesn’t involve actual physical intimacy, but ramps its fraudulent possibilities up all the way. On one level, this is the focus of Sakawa, a rough yet unabashed tale of fraud, lies and cat-fishing. On another, it embodies a searing sense of a reach for a dream. You can watch it on this year’s Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival, available online without cost, until 30 August.
The term ‘sakawa’ alludes to the practice of generalised scamming that embraces everything from faux traditional healers to getting gullible Americans to send off swathes of dollars to unknown destinations, but, like Teboho Edkins’s Days of Cannibalism, the work does not take an overtly judgmental stance. Indeed, without the device of the journalistic voice over and using extraordinary fly-on-the-wall footage, the situation is permitted to speak for itself. And what it says will turn your whole head inside out. It may make you laugh, uncomfortably and cynically, but it will certainly bring tears.
Ama was widowed at an early age. She has a small boy who she is raising as best she can, with strong values of church, cleanliness and education, and a yen to be apprenticed to a hairdresser. But everything comes with its price and what she earns at the local fresh food market is not enough.
The improvised working space of a young man colourfully known as One Dollar is at best, skanky. There are computer cables all over the floor, and people seated in couches, focused on their laptops. It’s business as usual in this peri-urban area, dirty in its poverty, rich and wild in its sense of hope.
And the stuff of business features the richest people in the world – and the ones most gullible. It’s about online sex for sale, lubricated with tricky technology that the service provider can hide behind, while he’s stealing your life’s savings. It’s about thanking magical plants as you pick them and conjure love with them, according to whimsical instructions from healers who are not healers.
On paper, this film feels vaguely funny with a knife edge of horror, given that you’re not the one being scammed, that it fits the documentary genre and that these are real people, not inventions. In actuality, it presents such a palpable case for One Dollar and his mates and their plight, that you implicitly want them to win. In every way.
A comment on the brutal injustices perpetrated by this world, Sakawa is a finely crafted, beautifully conceptualised reflection of how to get where you want to be by using whatever you have, and tossing morals to the wind. It’s about dizzyingly huge contrasts and offers an indictment of society’s disparities as it whispers threads of hope, most indomitable.
- Sakawa is written and directed by Ben Asamoah. Produced by Peter Krüger, it features creative input by Jonathan Wannyn (photography), Kwinten van Laethem and Mathias van Gasse (sound), Tom Denoyette and Simon Schuurman (editing) and Feras Daouk and Laurens Desmet (music). It is on the Encounters International South African Documentary Film Festival which runs until 30 August 2020, and this year is accessible online and without charge.