In the African-American community, we regard our elders as being treated with the utmost respect and are proud to do so. It is our elders that pass down stories from every generation that give you a sense of where you came from and where you are going. Imagine someone accusing your Granny of cursing a home or family – better yet accused of being a witch and the having her life snuffed out as a result of such an accusation.
Karisa lives in Mombasa, one of the largest cities in Kenya and his grandmother is accused of witchcraft, which prompts him to travel from Mombasa to investigate out who’s behind it the rumor. Karisa’s conversations with various relatives reveal how his uncles are accusing grandma while his aunts are trying to protect her, and how the accusations are resulting from a combination of superstition and economic motives. Grandma is not the only one being targeted—hundreds of elders are being branded as witches as a means to steal their land in a new form of elder abuse
Beautifully shot and directed Maia Lekow and Christopher King, we are allowed to gain a deeper understanding of how this community’s values have been disrupted by colonialism and religion. More importantly Karisa’s love for his grandmother, her fearless spirit, the understated power of women, and the resilience of family despite the growing threat of greed.
The Letter has moment that show how black people can make joy out of any occasion and situation regardless of the circumstances. It also shows how deep religion brews within a community and alienates all at once. If you still have you elders, hug them, kiss them and tell them you love them as their time of this plane, as all of ours, is finite. The film is playing right now as part of the AFI DOCS Film Festival at afidocs.com.