Connect with us


Hot Docs 2020 Dispatch: ‘Softie’ and ‘Dope is Death’

Editor’s Note: Hot Docs was among the film festivals postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Goomba Stomp is reviewing select fest entries that elected to premiere digitally for critics.



Director Sam Soko charts the political radicalization of a Kenyan photojournalist-turned-activist-turned-politician in his urgent new documentary Softie. The film is unsparing in its portrayal of the African nation’s rampant corruption, which has enveloped by the ruling party and its opposition, but it’s the unvarnished portrait of Boniface “Softie” Mwangi and his wife Njeri that elevates the film from a simple inspiring tale.

Mwangi is a gifted photographer who documented brutal mob violence following a botched election in 2007, which earned him the CNN Africa Photojournalist of the Year Award in 2008 and 2010. But the nation’s widespread corruption and jarring violence inspired him to become an activist first, and when that proved not to be enough, a Member of Parliament.

Soko has found an engaging subject in Mwangi, who’s a man–child requiring his advisors to constantly keeping him on task and away from his phone, despite his obvious passions. Mwangi’s wife Njeri, an activist herself, is inspired enough to join her husband’s campaign. The film provides a revelatory behind-the-scenes portrait of their relations, and we see just how exasperated Njeri becomes as her husband forsakes his parenting duties for campaigning. When he receives death threats, she moves their three children to America for eight months, and the sorrow Mwangi feels is inescapable. He’s willing to sacrifice everything, maybe even his own life, but his family proves to be the only thing he won’t sacrifice to save Kenya. (Brian Marks)

Dope is Death

Beginning as a history lesson on the Black Panther movement and heroin addiction in the South Bronx during the 1970s, Dope is Death finds a thread to connect the two and weaves an entirely new narrative. Mia Donovan’s latest documentary is a look at the ways in which revolutions ignite and the subsequent roadblocks put in the way to stop them from gaining momentum. Engaging and informative, Dope is Death is a comprehensive look at the role drugs play in preventing grassroots movements from surviving to completion.

Initially, the film seems to set its sights on an acupuncture clinic that has actually helped as a form of detox for drug users in the community. Taking a glance at the history of the clinic, Dope is Death winds up centering around different organizations within the South Bronx including the Young Lords and the Black Panthers. As the multiple organizations try to help the colored communities and the less-privileged, it reveals the use of drugs by governments to keep these communities oppressed. Following a fairly linear trajectory once it hops back to 1969, Donovan’s film presents a series of events that demonstrates the power of human will in the face of adversity.

Dope is Death is also a story told simply – utilizing talking heads and archive footage, almost exclusively – but to the point. That linearity is only broken every now and then once the story comes back around to the acupuncture clinic, and then the film makes its pivot into discussing Mutulu Shakur – an acupuncturist who helped with the Lincoln Detox Community Program and helped many communities affected by drug use. He plays a huge part in the two stories about community movements and drug use – eventually resulting in a tale of targeted harassment and the role it plays in taking down a revolution. 

Unfortunately, the third act falters in securing both sides of the story regarding Shakur, whereas the rest of the film’s strength is it feels informed from various perspectives. A faulty final act doesn’t change how vital and important Dope is Death feels by the time it’s over though. It remains a brisk and informative overview of the weaponization of the drug war on the underprivileged and the risks necessary to take in order to make a difference. (Christopher Cross)

Written By

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Deep Impact was a serious look at the end of the world Deep Impact was a serious look at the end of the world

25 Years Later: Deep Impact was a Serious Look at the End of the World 


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 movie review Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 movie review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Caps Off the Trilogy With a Heartfelt Bang (Mostly)


The Best Movies of 1973 The Best Movies of 1973

The Golden Year of Movies: 1973


The Zone of Interest The Zone of Interest

Cannes 2023: Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is a Manicured Vision of Hell


Jeanne Du Barry review Jeanne Du Barry review

Cannes 2023: Maïwenn’s Great Hair Goes to Great Lengths in Jeanne Du Barry


The Best of the Beast – Brock Lesnar’s Ten Best Matches, Ranked The Best of the Beast – Brock Lesnar’s Ten Best Matches, Ranked

The Best of the Beast – Brock Lesnar’s Ten Best Matches, Ranked


BlackBerry movie review BlackBerry movie review

BlackBerry Is a Wonderfully Canadian Account of a Dying Tech Dream


Black Flies Gripping Black Flies Gripping

Cannes 2023: Black Flies— Gripping Descent into the Underbelly of New York’s Urban Misery 


Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret: Judy Blume’s Adaptation is Right On


Sean Garrity review Sean Garrity review

The End of Sex is a Ballsy Comedy of Marital Manners 


The Mother Jennifer Lopez and Lucy Paez The Mother Jennifer Lopez and Lucy Paez

Jennifer Lopez’s The Mother is Eerily Similar to Enough, But That’s Not a Bad Thing


The Matrix Reloaded The Matrix Reloaded

20 Years Later: The Matrix Reloaded was Underwhelming, but Still Underrated


He Got Game retrospective He Got Game retrospective

He Got Game was Spike Lee’s Shot at a Basketball Movie 


Godzilla 1998 Godzilla 1998

Godzilla at 25: When Hollywood Made a Manhattan Monster Movie, with Disastrous Results


Sean Connery Sean Connery

60 Years Later, Dr. No Remains the Paragon of Bond


Fast X Fast X

Fast X Finally Reaches the Franchise’s Breaking Point