The Afrofuturistic Musical Romance of Neptune Frost
To be the first Afro/cyberpunk musical to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Neptune Frosthis reputation precedes him. Shot on location in Rwanda, Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s feature debut is a jaw-dropping achievement, a standalone film that looks like it could spawn a new genre. The plot follows Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse), a young worker in a coltan mine in an unnamed African country. After his brother Tekno is beaten to death by a guard, Matalusa joins a revolutionary movement against the bosses of the mine (referred to only as “The Authority”). It’s there that he meets Neptune, a gender-switching hacker played by both Elvis Ngabo and Cheryl Isheja. Their rebellion takes the form of a massive hack that brings worker exploitation to a global audience.
The path Neptune Frost blurs the socio-political upheavals that are not necessarily Rwandan or Burundian (but which still speak directly to the century and a half of Western domination over African interests) is one of its main strengths. It’s not hard to see tropes of better-funded sci-fi/fantasy properties in this digital mosaic. Matalusa’s evolution into the hacker persona MartyrLoserKing has undertones of the “chosen one” trope that has been ubiquitous after-star warsand the confluence of sexual and political awakenings refers to The matrix.
But unlike those movies, Neptune Frost stubbornly refuses a conventional story arc. Its true subject is the transhumanist utopia implied by the romance of Matalusa and Neptune, as well as the exploitation suffered on the ground – coltan being essential to the manufacture of components for smartphones and computers. Williams and Uzeyman waste no time probing the motivations of bosses or workers. Their outrage is obvious, and the images – smudged, digital, wearable – speak for themselves, often with harsh, artisanal majesty, courtesy of production designer Antoine Nshimiyimana and costume designer Cedric Mizero.
As a slam poet, rapper, actor, and performance artist, Williams has made a career out of bucking all of the larger trends besieging pop culture, so it’s been especially enjoyable to see this film unfold across the country. with unanimous critical acclaim. But some of the ecstatic reception feels almost defensive, as if the film is celebrated simply for existing and for being that way. sui generis. As a visual experience, Neptune Frost between hypnotic and repetitive. Some will find the film poetic; others may simply be driven mad by its many callbacks to earlier songs and phrases.
Beneath its Wong-Kar-Wai-like dreamlike, shifting sense of unease, what’s most interesting about Neptune Frost is how he tackles ecological and political crises with brute force. Hopefully this will help more people recognize the costs of current capitalism, albeit through the canvas of so-called “science fiction”. At a fraction of the usual cost, Uzeyman and Williams have performed a sweeping intervention on a genre that has been slaughtered in recent years by the “cinematic universes” of Disney, Marvel, and more. The film is also a referendum – not on the meager trickle of African cinema making its way to the United States, but rather on the preponderance of images (many of them crafted in Western documentary labs) that depict the continent as a desert. laughed at. In its most surprising moments, Neptune Frost is a vivid reminder of the potential for new visions of old disasters.
Neptune Frost is playing now in select theaters.