The Kenyan, mixed-media documentary animation “Yellow Fever” explores colorism and self-image among African girls and women. It was made by the award winning, Kenyan filmmaker Ng’endo Mukii who’s portfolio spans advertising campaigns, children’s TV series, documentary animation and experimental films! She frequently uses storytelling and creative, highly-textured animation to make compelling films.
“Yellow Fever” served as Mukii’s thesis project at London’s Royal College of Art. The film has garnered a long list of accolades including Best Animation at the 7th Kenya International Film Festival in 2012, Best Animation in This Is England Film Festival (France), the Silver Hugo for Best Animated Short at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival (USA), and Best Short Film at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (Nigeria), all in 2013.
It is an enchanting blend of live-action, stop-motion, spoken word, and vibrant hand-drawn animation that explores the effects of Eurocentric beauty ideals that are projected by mainstream media and modern advertising, on African women. It displays how the classic European ideals of beauty such as fair skin and long flowing hair is filtering into the minds of young African girls and creating a dissatisfaction with their natural looks. On her website, Mukii explains how she is interested in the concept of skin and race and the theories that are sown into our flesh. She is fascinated by how these theories evolve and adjust over time. The idea of beauty has now become globalised to the point where homogenous aspirations are a growing epidemic. People’s self-image across the globe is now more distorted than ever.
“Yellow Fever” explores African women’s self-image through various memories and interviews. The film highlights the dissatisfaction that some darker skinned women have with their complexions and the often harmful measures taken in their quest for a lighter skin tone. The most common method is through the use of skin bleaching products, known in Kenya as mkorogo. With the reduction of melanin, the skin turns a yellowy tone, hence the name of the film “Yellow Fever”.
One of the most compelling and poignant moments within the film occurs when Mukii’s niece proclaims that she feels discomfort with her dark skin whenever she looks into a mirror. Hearing this admission from a child causes the severity of this message to resonate. The inclusion of her niece’s perspective allows for the film to successfully address the trickling down of these beauty standards through generations of women. Mukii’s motivation for creating this touching animation was triggered by a childhood memory of a hairdresser that could only afford to bleach her hands and face. The use of animation was very effective in this case as it allowed Mukii to depict the contrasting skin colours of the figures and emphasize the true sadness of going to such measures to become something that you are not. Mukii was able to describe this internal conflict as a schizophrenic “self-visualization” that she remembers enduring when she was young.
Inspiring thought on issues that are really important is a difficult task that is increasingly being tackled through the medium of Animation. In today’s modern society we are confronted with so much information on a daily basis so we are of course selective on where we expand our attention. With this in mind, it is important to recognise that the primary factor that caused me to click on “Yellow Fever” before I knew anything else, was its aesthetic attraction. The artistic conviction with which Mukii created such 3D, highly-textured human forms was incredible. Animators are creating pieces of art that compel the viewer to stop scrolling through their computers mindlessly and capture their attention long enough to convey the desired message. I know that personally I am more likely to offer my attention to a visual display rather than words on a page, and it seems I am not alone as Animation is fast becoming the Social Activist’s instrument of choice!
Following the success of Yellow Fever, Mukii now has two projects in development, of which one is a documentary animation called 50 Steps, for which she has received development funds from the DocuBox East African Documentary Fund.