Unanimous Goldmine

Editor’s Introduction

Neptune Frost continues to elude categorization during its theatrical run. Glancing over the film’s reviews, I see critics diagnose it a musical, a poem, an Afrofuturism, a cyberpunk, an ‘African spin on steampunk’, a queer romance, an ‘anti-colonialist call to arms’, a ‘hacker manifesto’, ‘the future of Black cinema’, etc.

No number of genres or catchwords in succession has deepened my understanding of the film, but they do speak to its hard-to-pin, terpsichorean breadth, which has enabled this Scrapbook edition to expand beyond writing on cinema and to wrap Neptune Frost in some words about or by a fraction of its vast community. 

I had expected the writers of this issue to engage with more Rwandan and Burundian creatives outside of Neptune’s orbit, but it proved so expansive that we didn’t need to. Even the impasto painter I contacted separately, Izere Antoine, ended up having worked on a project with Neptune’s Costume Designer Cedric Mizero and had met Williams on one of the Co-Director’s many trips to Rwanda. Such coincidental connections were common in my engagements with artists and writers from the film’s two locations.

Evidently, Uzeyman & Williams did not just shoot a film in Rwanda and Burundi and leave. Artist, writer and filmmaker Christian Nyampeta echoed my feelings about the co-directors' holistic process in his Scrapbook conversation with Antoine, the painter mentioned above: ‘...One of the things that springs out to me while watching the film is this very intentional, communal ethos of working together. The film really mobilizes a lot of creation, people and relations among a group of artistic practices today, and I thought it was brilliant to bring together so many years of development and making into one work.’ I appreciate that Nyampeta does not isolate the film’s experience from how Uzeyman & Williams made it. Neptune Frost is just one part of the larger transmedia project MartyrLoserKing (Inspired by a Frenchman with a strong accent’s pronunciation of ‘Martin Luther King’), which also comprises music and a graphic novel. As its film entry, the medium Uzeyman says ‘carries everything’, Neptune especially reflects MartyrLoserKing’s open-endedness—its encouragement for watchers, readers and listeners to proceed from one of its experiences to another in anticipation of its future forms and possibilities.

Neptune Frost provokes as many inner and outer connections at the micro-level. Journalist/DJ Makeda Mahadeo says of the film’s visuals, ‘If you look away at any moment’ you might miss a stroke of costume, makeup, hair or cinematography (by Uzeyman) ‘genius’. The same is true of Williams’ music, dialogue and lyrics, which are spoken and sung in at least Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Swahili, French and English. Blink and you may miss a fast allusion to Thomas Sankara, the Marxist, revolutionary president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987 who was assassinated by the same man who helped bring him to power: Blaise Compaoré, another fall guy of the French (who was just convicted this year). Unlike his predecessors, Sankara famously refused to decorate public buildings with his own portraits, stating, ‘There are seven million Thomas Sankaras.’

In the film, Matalusa (Bertrand ‘Kaya Free’ Ninteretse) echoes this humbling sentiment when Neptune (Cheryl Isheja), an intersex hacker, asks him if he’s a ‘MartyrLoser’: ‘I’m no King. I mine coltan.’ Potolo the Avatar (Eric Ngangare) has hacked into the dreams of various misfits and called them to Digitaria, a settlement built from e-waste. Here, Uzeyman and Williams envision a utopian revolution of minimal sacrifice and labor. Digitarians hack the colonialist world project sitting and don’t even have to get up to see their results play out on the news. Like any passionate protest, theirs often looks indistinguishable from dance and song. Many of the Digitarians come from mining coltan, the black metallic ore used to produce hi-tech applications like smartphones and computers. Today, coltan is primarily mined in countries like Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazil, but is managed and exported by American and European corporations, who then send the resulting e-waste in the west back to Africa.

In Neptune Frost the working world seizes the power of convenience–technology that the western world exploits merely to luxuriate—to destroy deeply embedded imperialist structures with deadly ease and efficiency.

Such structures have even parasitized our keyboards. Williams upends these microcolonialisms, rewriting ‘Command, Control, Delete’ (on a Mac) as ‘Command, Control, Democracy’ in a song sung by Matalusa later in the film. Hearing and reading Williams’ dense wordplay, I thought for a moment of the oppressive language of film distribution, where a phrase such as ‘exploitation of rights’, referring to the various streaming and theatrical possibilities a distributor hopes to seize, is uncomfortably common and contractual. Jemma Desai of ‘This work isn’t for us’ has emphasized how the use of the word ‘submission’ to describe when filmmakers share their work for consideration normalizes a class structure whereby artists are expected to concede the fruits of their labor to a higher power—festivals, distributors and streamers—or those elements of the industry most susceptible to gatekeeping.

This is how I generally perceived the marketplace to function at my first Cannes Marche du Film this year: a large distributor, often based in the US or EU, buys ‘all rights’ to a film, meaning they have the right to screen the film anywhere in the world, on any platform and for as many years as they ask for, whether or not they intend to release the film everywhere, on all platforms or for every one of those years.

As a result, distributors in countries with less global market power like the Philippines (whose TBA Studios I observed mostly closely at Cannes) must outbid local competitors to earn the rights to a film in their territory.

Naturally, the US distributor accepts the largest offer, absorbing their fee and/or their split of the Philippine distibutor’s total revenue—earning more for having more.

Independent films produced in African countries with less film infrastructure are often distributed abroad but have no way of circulating at home. I recall a conversation our team had with one of the Who Will Start Another Fire directors, who aired their frustrations about European co-producers, financiers and distributors comparing her and her peers films to Eyimofe. But they couldn’t see what they were being measured up against. The film wasn’t accessible in Uganda, where they’re based. Neptune Frost imagines such a cycle upended: Matalusa mines coltan for corporations until he breaks free, takes it for himself and reappropriates the ore's power to hack the system that set him in a perpetual work loop.

From what I understand, Neptune has already played to an audience in Rwanda, but I hope it sees more opportunities to screen there, in Burundi and in the surrounding regions.


Some of the writers in this issue are part of Uzeyman & Williams’ extended community. Many are not only or are not primarily writers. There are activists, poets, DJs and other artists among them. Each writes in British English. Rather than conform everyone's styles to American English, I’ve conformed mine to theirs, I expect, imperfectly. American English spelling may sometimes sit beside British English punctuation and an occasional word in Kinyarwanda.

Due to schedule and budget limitations, I especially regret that we had to cancel our profile of the august Assumpta Mugiraneza, who is, among many impressive things, the Co-Founder and Director of the IRIBA Centre for Multimedia Heritage. And there are countless other individuals and collectives in Neptune’s ever expanding orbit that I wish we had the bandwidth to highlight.

I encourage readers to write me in response to anyone or anything in this issue. I’ll do my best to pass your message on to whoever or whatever it’s meant for.
-A.E. Hunt