National Geographic’s documentary film, Bobi Wine: The People’s President, grippingly illustrates the story of a musician turned political inspirator, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine. This film gives a riveting account of Bobi’s quest to bring change to Uganda through politics and music.
The film opens with Bobi performing onstage to fans who sing every word back to him with energy and electric enthusiasm. It would soon paint a stark, opposite image of the moments that would face him in the near future. This scene speaks profoundly of a man who by common standards had it all – money, popularity, health, and a home for his family. Ultimately risking it all to fight for the rights of his fellow citizens no matter the personal cost.
The documentary provides insight into Bobi Wine’s early years and upbringing, highlighting factors that influenced his journey toward political activism, including his humble beginnings in a slum of Kampala Uganda. His family struggled to make ends meet. While it would appear that he had it all, Bobi knew first-hand what it was like not to. He never let that feeling get too far away from him. In fact, some might say his ability to see himself as ‘one of them’ was a personal motivating factor in significant painful, frightening, and downright heartbreaking moments he faced, where others might have given up.
Bobi and his wife, Barbie Kyagulanyi, a Ugandan philanthropist, and author tell the story of meeting another similarly. They recall a not-so-immediate spark while attending University, connecting after being cast in the same stage play. With opposite upbringings, Bobi’s initial vision of success was simple: “to have a good small car and a good small home in the ghetto”, until Barbie’s path collides with his. She helps him realize he holds the power to change lives. Barbie believes in Bobi Wine – whom she hadn’t known as the musician until sometime after they met, and notes during one interview with a knowing smirk, that one can never know just quite what he will do next.
It’s the year 2014, and Bobi Wine’s music is the soundtrack to the common Ugandan’s life, when he decides to utilize those sounds to expose Uganda’s injustices and corruption, he becomes more than a pop star. He became a beacon of hope to the Ugandan people. He harnesses this power to challenge the regime under the 35-year leadership of Yoweri Museveni, by running against Museveni in the 2021 presidential race. Illegal raids, illegitimate arrests, torture, and eliminating access to resources such as food and healthcare are just the beginning of the roadblocks Bobi and his supporters would face during this political battle.
Authentic storytelling is the pulse of this film. With dramatic moments that oftentimes feel like those in a fictional script intentionally written for television. There are jaw-dropping moments where President Museveni crosses yet another line one would think uncrossable. There are moments of despair when the hero, Bobi, is taken into custody and the audience is left as vulnerable and helpless as the Ugandan people. There are moments of disbelief and pure horror as live ammunition is fired in broad daylight at peaceful protestors, inciting violence, and death. It is a painstaking reminder that challenges of the first world, often pale in comparison to other’s daily reality. The film places the complex and manipulative political landscape of Uganda on full display while witnessing the birth of the “People Power” movement. With its message of unity and iconic umbrella symbol, rallying the masses with a promise of change. The narrative is sure to inspire all who yearn for social justice reform.
The film’s cinematography is expertly juxtaposed against the rhythmic beats and conscious messaging of Bobi’s music. Ugandan’s beautiful landscapes paired with the intense emotions of the times and its people create a captivating visual aid to the timeline.
Those not familiar with the full scope of Uganda’s political landscape could benefit from a deeper exploration into it, but the film acts as a great introductory entry point.
Bobi Wine: The People’s President is making waves of change and encouraging those on the front lines not to grow weary in the fight for freedom. This film balances remarkable storytelling with exposure to deeply entrenched issues of corruption, human rights violations, and authoritarianism that have plagued the nation for years. By weaving together interviews with politicians, activists, and everyday Ugandans. Bobi Wine: The People’s President presents a multi-faceted view of the complex world Uganda is. The moving and inspirational account of Bobi’s story and his resilient spirit is a voice that echoes around the world, leaving no choice but to eventually evoke change, allowing Ugandans to finally dance to the rhythm of freedom.
Bobi Wine: The People’s President is currently available on Disney+ and Hulu, and will begin streaming on National Geographic’s YouTube on November 5, 2023.
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