British-Kenyan actor Charles Mnene stars in this salient coming-of-age drama ‘Riding with Sugar’ alongside British-Nigerian actor Hakeem-kae-Kazeem.
The South African film follows a young refugee, Joshua(Charles Mnene), who flees his hometown due to the villainy going on in Zimbabwe. He embarks on his sojourn to find his identity and pursue his long-life dream of going pro with his Bicycle Motocross Sports, popularly known as BMX. However, a shocking twist of fate intervenes in his quest to find true happiness and fulfillment.
Created by writer-director Sunu Gonera, this project infuses various genres – including sport, crime, comedy, romance and thriller – to tell a well-rounded, comprehensive story. Grappling with the plight of refugees and the real threat of xenophobia, Sunu captures a deeply personal yet inspiring film for Africa with universal application encouraging you to journey with the main character and root for the tragic BMX sensation.
The film opens with so much chaos, introducing us to Joshua’s character arc, a determined, stoic, defiant young man playing a Zimbabwean teenager and orphan. Joshua has a fighting spirit and his interpretation of the role elevates the production through a powerful lead performance.
Charles Mnene is a seasoned British actor with a surprisingly long list of TV and film credits. His traumatized childhood primarily drives his role in Riding With Sugar, which reflects in his current worldview. Joshua walks around with a part of him that is not entirely accepted in the community where he seeks refuge but still carries his root and tribe with him even though it brings him lots of pain.
Once a scholarship student, Joshua’s hopes of completing his education were dashed, and so he has only his BMX ambition going for him. Just when things start looking up for him, he is met with a life-wrecking experience that makes him question his entire existence.
Mnene is supported by Hakeem Kae-Kazim, who adds charm and magnitude as Mambo, a Fagin-type character with pimp pizzaz. Mambo turns out to be the shining light that turns Joshua’s life around. Bambo runs a refugee child shelter, he brings Joshua under his wings and challenges him to get a better life and study to go to the university, but then life with Mambo also comes with its pecks.
Simona Brown plays opposite Mnene as his romantic interest, Olivia, showcasing her brimming talents with a character offering some strong contrasts, and providing Joshua with the hope to dream of a larger and better life with her.
The director does a riveting job with the cast by ensuring a great synergy between the characters, which aids their dialogue delivery and character interpretation.
It also keeps me fascinated as a viewer to see the characters resonate from different parts of Africa such as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa to tell a heart-grabbing story about identity and self-actualisation.
The project is exquisitely filmed in a reddish tone, giving a complete feel of the African soil as it captures neon city lights and impressive aerial views of the picturesque Cape Town. The cinematography intentionally encapsulates the heart of South Africa through Joshua’s point of view as he races the streets of Cape Town, creating eye-popping visuals and impressive camera angles.
Another major highlight in this project is the catchy soundtrack, which reinforces the explosion of creativity that went into making this motion picture a reality. It’s quite difficult to fault the film’s production because it aimed to deliver a high-class visual storytelling experience that gives the audience value for their time and money.
Riding with Sugar could have stuck to telling a strong story; the film tries to cover too many themes, making its plot a bit subpar – mainly struggling with the character of Mambo, whose wants and needs were a tad difficult to decipher.
Overall, Riding with Sugar will resonate with many young adults who are on their way to self-discovery. Still, it is sporadic in its effort to focus on a specific target audience by trying to please everyone. The performances by the characters are attention-grabbing, and the themes are also relevant in that it becomes easy to immerse yourself into the world of the characters. Although bumpy, as you go through the ner-two-hour runtime, it keeps you glued to its unmatchable energy and non-cliche style. It’s definitely one of the best projects out of Africa in recent times.
Riding with sugar is currently streaming on Netflix.