Teaching Colonial Africa – Three Exceptional Films That Can Bring Colonial Africa Alive For Your Kid

In Desert and Wilderness is a great family film based on a novel by Poland’s Henryk Sienkiewicz. Set near the end of the 19th Century, the movie follows the adventures of two children who have accompanied their engineer father to the Sudan where he begins working on the Suez Canal project. Kidnapped for ransom by the rebels of the Mahdi’s rebellion, the children manage to escape along with two African children. Together they make their way back home across the African desert. Although the story is fictionalized, it is set against real historical events. It is a foreign film with subtitles, but the DVD offers a dubbed option suitable for children. This internationally acclaimed, award-winning film is extremely family friendly.

Based on the autobiographical novel by Elspeth Huxley, The Flame Trees of Thika is a marvelous BBC miniseries that brings Eastern Africa to vivid life. In 1913, 11-year-old Elspeth traveled with her mother from England to Kenya to help build a coffee plantation. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, The Flame Trees of Thika isn’t just about one girl, or one family; it’s about colonialism. The Europeans in Thika feel certain they’re bringing culture to the uncivilized, without realizing what they’re destroying in the process. However well intentioned, the meddling of these adults in the affairs of the Masai, the Kikuyu, and other locals frequently creates tension. In many ways, growing up in Africa makes Tilly the wisest of the bunch. At one point she notes, “It’s like two whole separate circles revolving around each other–their world and ours–and only just touching occasionally.” This seven episode miniseries is extremely family friendly.

Spanning two continents, Nowhere in Africa recounts the true story of a Jewish attorney and his family’s flight from the Nazi regime in 1938 and their relocation to a remote farm in Kenya. Their daughter immediately sets out to explore her magical new world, but her mother’s transition proves far more unsettling. A story about love, family, home, renewal, and change, this heartfelt film received a much-deserved Academy award for best foreign film in 2002. German with English subtitles, Nowhere in Africa is family friendly, but with moderately mature content.

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