If you saw Kim Nguyen's War Witch last year, then you pretty much saw the new movie Fishing Without Nets—you saw black Africans with machine guns, black Africans and their superstitions, black Africans getting high all the time. This is not to say that there aren't black Africans who love the look and feel of Kalashnikov's bloody gift to the third world, who believe in some really crazy shit about spirits and such, and who are in the habit of totally blasting their minds with whatever drugs they can get their bony hands on. These people really do exist. But a demographic analysis of European and American films set in or about black Africa would surely lead one to conclude that these violent types account for about 90 percent of the population in the Dark Continent.
Produced by Vice, directed by a young and white American (Cutter Hodierne), and concerned with the underworld of Somali pirates, Fishing Without Nets is a film that imagines it has one up its sleeve. These other features set in war-torn Africa don't have something that it's got in its otherwise standard plot: a sympathetic black lead. This character, Abdi (Abdikani Muktar), has a beautiful smile, rich black-brown skin, and warm eyes. He is also a father with a cute boy and a beautiful wife. Abdi is devoted to his family. He, like his father, is a fisherman. But the sea is not like it used to be. It's dying. The fish are getting smaller and fewer in number. What is he supposed to do? A man is not a man if he can't feed his family. He sends his wife and child to a better place and reluctantly joins the pirates. That seems like a refreshing portrait of a black African man. Sure, he ends up holding a machine gun, but at least we know he is a nice guy.
So what's the problem? There are so many. For example: The film doesn't at all explain how or why the fish population was depleted or where all of the machine guns are coming from. Think about it: Why do these extremely poor people have no food but lots of weapons and ammunition? It's really hard to find Western directors who want to deal with such questions or want to see on the screen black Africans who have never held or fired a gun in their lives.
In the end, Fishing Without Nets is not as realistic as Captain Phillips (a Hollywood movie—Nets is supposed to be indie), which at least has a very good idea about the current state of the job market in the US: the death of job benefits, the lack of representation by unions, and the nearly universal stagnation of middle-class wages. This is the situation that Phillips (Tom Hanks) wakes up to at the beginning of Captain Phillips. But there is no such background in Fishing Without Nets. Abdi wakes up and is just poor and depressed. And one day he gets his hands on a machine gun. And... you know the rest.