In his first feature as director and writer, Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers handsomely with The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. Anytime an actor decides to take the leap from in front of the camera to behind it, there comes a weighted risk and heightened expectations. As a well-respected actor who has extensive experience in true-to-life stories, it doesn’t surprise me at all that Ejiofor would come out the gates with such a quality piece.
The film tells the story of William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba), a young boy in Malawi who saves his village by harnessing the natural power that earth provides: the wind.
Ngati Mphepo yofika konse – “God is as the wind, which touches everything.”
As implied in the story’s title, William builds a windmill that’s able to save his village from a deadly famine that’s hit the region. But luckily, you’ll have close to two hours runtime to see everything that takes place behind the inevitable victory.
Most adults wouldn’t be able to face political discourse, the death of a family member, the death of a community leader, lack of funds to attend school, denial of ever attending in the future, or widespread famine. Yet a young William Kamkwamba dealt with all of these events and more, defeating every obstacle with a calm determination which in the end, would save his family and village.
Ejiofor plays William’s father Trywell, a hardworking farmer whose job becomes that much more difficult after the death of his brother John. He had hopes of inheriting the land adjacent to his but it ultimately went to a relative whose ambitions laid heavier on making money than farming and family legacy.
Trywell is well aware of William’s zest for knowledge and curiosity. Around the village, he’d built up a reputation for fixing radios. Nowadays we would call that a ‘side hustle’, but for William, it was more about the opportunity to learn and challenging himself than a means of making money. Thankfully, education was a subject where everyone in the family was congruent.
Even though Trywell and his wife saved for years to send William to school, what they paid was seen as a down payment. I found it ironic that he learned more after his eventual expulsion than when he was attending. The entire situation from fighting to attend school to fighting to stay in school is simply ridiculous. The fact that education isn’t a universal human right globally is a lingering problem that should’ve been resolved eons ago. If your land is flooded during a rainy season and dried out during the dry season, why wouldn’t you want to educate the masses to tackle the problem?
“When I cut off my own arm to feed you, then you’ll know you’re my child.” -Agnes Kamkwamba
Thankfully, William’s determination and curiosity was never quelled by his father, the school administration, or lack of funds. He scoured the village dump every day with his best friend Gilbert (Philbert Falakeza) in search for parts that might be salvageable. In the end, his biggest obstacle would be convincing his father to sacrifice the one practical tool he has left to conduct an experiment that could save the village.
Outside of William’s determination to save his village, the film highlights plenty of relatable struggles. Love, who we choose to love, honoring our parents, managing ill feelings toward our government officials, pride, the importance of education, and so on. In one scene, an exchange between Trywell and William took us to a place where pride and humility clash in a beautiful way. After a heated exchange, William explains, “I know things that you don’t.” True words stemming not from arrogance or pride, but the fact that he actively reads and (for a time) attended school, a place where his father was determined to send him.
I give The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind a 9 out of 10. As a directorial debutant, Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a quality piece of cinema that’s sure to make way for other stories outside the western world to find their home on Netflix.