'Mami Wata': CJ Obasi's West African folklore wins big at Sundance 2023

January 28th 2023, 9:03:21 am

The black and white fantasy drama competed against 11 narrative feature films in the World Cinematic Dramatic Category.

CJ Obasi’s 'Mami Wata' is heading to Sundance 2023!

C.J. Obasi’s 'Mami Wata' wins big at this year's Sundance film festival.

The West African folklore took home the World Cinema Dramatic: Special Jury Award for Cinematography.

Accepting the award on behalf of the Director of Photography, Lílis Soares, Obasi said, "It means a lot.... This was a dream, we worked so hard on this. A testament to what we were trying to create with the cinematography of the film. Lílis would say, 'Aesthetics is political.'"

'Mami Wata', the first homegrown Nigerian film to debut at Sundance, has received rave reviews at the festival especially for its cinematography.


It stands out for the visuals created with costume designer Bunmi Demiola Fashina, key hair stylist Adefunke Olowu, and key makeup artist Campbell Precious Arebamen.

The movie is a culmination of a five-year filmmaking process that has taken Obasi and his wife/producer Oge Obasi to locations around the world.

It all started with a visit from a supernatural being. Describing the experience to Variety, Obasi said, “It was really vivid. It was in black and white. In the vision, the goddess’ eyes are red, but also very soft. There was a kindness to her eyes. When I came to, I said, OK, so my next movie is ‘Mami Wata.’”

Set in the mythical West African village of Iyi, the movie follows Prisca and Zinwe, daughters of Mama Efe (an intermediary between the Mermaid goddess and the people of Iyi, a small fishing village in West Africa). Their destinies change when Jasper, an escaped mercenary takes over Iyi.

Described as a “modern fable,” the black-and-white film explores the battle between, “opportunistic militants promising technological progress and a matriarchal spiritual order living in fragile harmony with the ocean.”

Following the world debut at Sundance, the movie is set to make its African premiere in the Fiction Feature Competition of Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) 2023.

A total of 170 films are competing across 11 categories including short film, documentaries, TV series and animation from February 25 to March 4, 2023.

Watch a teaser of the highly anticipated 'Mami Wata' below:

Inemesit Udodiong
Inem Udodiong is the Entertainment Editor. A movie buff, film critic with a core interest in African cinema, and wellness. Reach her via


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