REVIEW: Watu Wote [All of Us] [2017]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: NR | Runtime: 21 minutes | Release Date: 2017 (Germany)
Studio: Hamburg Media School
Director(s): Katja Benrath
Writer(s): Julia Drache

“You’ll have to kill us all”

It’s dispiriting to constantly watch as Muslims are forced to defend themselves against the bigotry of Catholics who blindly reject their entire religion as one synonymous with terrorism. Looking back upon history (and the present) to see the horrors committed by Christians under the guise of “acts of God” highlights the hypocrisy and ultimately the racism at its back. They label other human beings evil for doing exactly what they have done for centuries. They champion immigration bans, quote inaccurate statistics, and sit back while an entire people is systematically eradicated simply because they pray to the same God monstrous zealots have decided to misrepresent. Too often we feign a desire for religious freedom but work tirelessly to ensure our own is ultimately the one deemed superior.

The regular citizens caught in the middle of such violent aggression are the ones who must pay. It’s their families who serve as collateral damage. It’s their tragedies so intrinsically connected to something so big as a religion that fosters the hate to keep peace at bay. But just as they are the ones who ultimately grow up with a mindset based in politicized, nationalistic rhetoric to keep the vitriol alive, they are also the only ones able to take a stand and ignore it. When a war is fought for generations, it has no end except for complete destruction. You kill us and we kill you: the cycle lives on in perpetuity until your internalized history forgets the role your people played in its creation.

So while these types of regimes brainwash their fighters into believing heroism is defined by how many “infidels” you can kill, intelligence and logic reveal true heroes as those who refuse to comply. These are the men and women Katja Benrath honors with her film Watu Wote [All of Us]. Inspired by real events, Julia Drache‘s script depicts a seemingly harmless thirty one-hour bus ride north towards the border between Kenya and Somalia—a place ravaged by terrorist group Al-Shabaab. One of their attacks is the reason Jua (Adelyne Wairimu) moved south, but she’s compelled to return in order to supply comfort to her ailing mother. Being a Christian victim with but one abstract target for her rage, the Muslim-majority passenger list puts her on high alert.

The film isn’t naïve about its complex subject matter, though. I’m not sure I could bestow any higher praise than saying so. The endgame will inevitably make it so Jua’s life is placed in the hands of those she so easily resents with a side-eye glare, but it doesn’t demonize her bigotry as more than an honest reactionary instinct in the process. We can’t blame her for being guarded after what we learn happened to her. But we also can’t blame Salah Farah (Abdiwali Farrah) for not wasting his time trying to change her mind when he so obviously exists in the impossible position of being a good man Christians won’t believe and a Muslim who cannot condone the actions of those giving his religion a bad name.

Their mutual caution is what binds them because society, culture, and the media have bred a mistrust that cannot be erased overnight. They also share the empathy that results from that caution. Jua snaps and feels remorse. Salah walks away, but never wavers in the true teaching of Allah about brotherhood and life. In the end it isn’t about either side because both are wrong. The act of taking up arms and allowing the mentality where killing one of your own is a worthy sacrifice to flush out one of theirs ensures that salvation doesn’t await them. No, paradise is reserved for those who recognize a person in need no matter his/her gender, sexuality, religion, or race. Heroes understand that looking like the enemy doesn’t make you one by default.

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