Film enthusiasts across the country were besides themselves with joy when, in November 2021, it was announced that The Girl in the Yellow Jumper, a thriller written and directed by the brilliant Loukman Ali, would be Uganda’s first ever Netflix film.
Prior to this, the film – Loukman’s first feature-length project – had been beset by a series of unfortunate events. According to Loukman, the crew and cast were severely affected by funding shortages, with the cast taking long breaks between filming due to financial constraints.
The film was initially set to be released locally in Ugandan theatres in April 2020, but theatres across the country were forced to close down due to the COVID pandemic, which hit Uganda in March 2020.
Plans to have the film premiere on paid streaming sites seemed to have stalled as Loukman shifted his attention to two other short film projects, The Blind Date, followed by its prequel, Sixteen Rounds.
However, it wasn’t all bad news for The Girl in the Yellow Jumper. In 2021, the film won an award for Best Director at the Realtime International Film Festival, and was selected for the Mostra de Cinema Africanos award. It also screened at the 2021 Nollywood Week Film Festival.
What I loved about The Girl in the Yellow Jumper
The Girl in the Yellow Jumper is a brave departure from the melodrama genre most African films on Netflix lean toward. Reminiscent of the “whodunit” detective films that were popular in the 70s and 80s, it follows a policeman, Patrick (Maurice Kirya), who picks up an injured hitchhiker called Jim (Michael Wawuyo Jr) as he ferries an important unnamed witness (Michael Wawuyo Sr) to the police station. During the car ride, Jim regales Patrick with an unbelievable tale of the events that led to his kidnapping, injury, and eventual escape.
The film opens with a bang, as most of Loukman’s films tend to. The audience is treated to a gripping scene in which neuroscientist Prof Mahmood Sali, played by veteran actor, Philip Luswata, is interviewed on a TV show to answer the public’s questions about the mysterious “Cigarette Butt Killer”. He goes on to tell the old parable of the scorpion and the frog.
Jim, our hitchhiker protagonist, is sleeping in front of the TV as the show plays. Suddenly, he is rendered unconscious by a mysterious figure clad in a yellow jumper and a gas mask. The audience’s mind is primed for questions, and this scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Throughout the film, there is an underlying sense of unease. Is it the glaring gaps in Jim’s story? Or is it the inconsistencies in the policeman’s attitude toward an extremely suspicious injured man with an unbelievable story? Perhaps, it’s the fact that Jim is wearing the same yellow jumper made ubiquitous by the film’s title.
Either way, Loukman and his remarkable cast manage to deliver a nicely paced intriguing thriller with exhilarating plot twists that keep the audience on their toes. Maurice Kirya is a surprise standout in a cast of seasoned actors like Michael Wawuyo Jr, Michael Wawuyo Sr, Rehema Nanfuka, and Philip Luswata.
Although he is no stranger to the screen (Last King of Scotland, Queen of Katwe), Maurice Kirya is more widely recognized for his musical pursuits, contributing the Ugandan music scene as a pioneer of the mwoyo genre. His role as Patrick, a hardened policeman, is a departure from his heartthrob musician persona, but he performs brilliantly.
What could have been better
While Loukman manages to wow with a cohesive plot, beautiful cinematography, and smart musical choices, there are still a few unfortunate snags here and there. There are inconsistencies like Jim having his left hand bandaged when he enters Patrick’s car, yet his recollections show that it was his right hand that was wounded.
Whether this was an error or intentional by Loukman to make the audience question the veracity of Jim’s story is unclear. Also, in a later scene, the fish that were attached to the grill of Patrick’s car are missing, then suddenly reappear in the next scene.
The cutaway scenes where American actor, Morocco Omari (Empire, 21 Bridges), goes into detail about different concepts, aided by animations, are interesting, but feel a little out of space because of how sparsely and irregularly they appear.
Despite these issues, The Girl in the Yellow Jumper is a very solid effort, and a great step forward for the Ugandan film industry.
The Girl in the Yellow Jumper is available on Netflix. Watch it here today.
Innocent Immaculate Acan is a medical doctor and writer. She won the Writivism Short Story Prize in 2016 and has published an illustrated children’s book titled The Pearl Trotters in Black, Yellow, Red. She was part of the 2018 class of the Young and Emerging Leaders Project.