‘Softie’ Review: Battling for Votes in Kenya

As a photographer, Boniface “Softie” Mwangi made his name recording the carnage of Kenya’s postelection violence in 2007 (including work published in this paper). Embracing activism, he agitated for reform of the country’s corrupt politics with its dynasties, vote-buying and postcolonial tribalism. In Sam Soko’s sometimes bewildering documentary “Softie,” Mwangi presents as an unassumingly stirring figure: an ardent advocate for democratic processes, but a seasoned realist about nefarious forces in his home country.

The movie cruises through about a decade of personal and national history. Mwangi leads protests — from marches attacked by riot police to a stunt that unleashes pigs outside parliament — and then runs for legislative office himself. In many ways it’s a standard campaign documentary, under volatile conditions; check-ins with Mwangi’s wife, Njeri, and their children punctuate his campaign’s voter outreach and struggle to defeat their rival candidate, a pop singer.

After Mwangi and his family receive death threats, Njeri spirits the children away to live in Jersey City. Soko crams in eye-popping footage of brutality and unrest, with bursts of history and news analysis. But despite ample attention to Mwangi’s struggle to balance family and politics, the film neglects to flesh out his policies.

Soko gets credit for not softening Mwangi’s landing, and the outcome of the election is dropped as nearly an afterthought to his valiant efforts. But the on-the-ground campaigning and complex history could use a better shape than the film’s fits and starts.

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. Watch through BAM’s virtual cinema.

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