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Can You See Us? - Film Review

Posted: April 23 2024

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work
Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best resources to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Can You See Us?
  • Available on Netflix
  • Directed by Kenny Mumba, written by Andrew Thompson and Lawrence Thompson, 109 Min, Produced by Yasmin Dodia and Lawrence Thompson. 
  • Release date: 2022
  • Reviewer/s: Nadedra Clarke, MSc Social Work student
  • First published in Journal of Social Work
Poster of film Can You See Us?

This moving Netflix coming-of-age film is about tragedy, loss, bullying, and rejection. This drama follows the lives of Chama and her albino son, Joseph, living in Zambia. Joseph was born with the skin condition albinism and was rejected by his biological father at birth, forcing him and his mother to flee when he was only a few days old. The film fast forwards to a grown-up Joseph aged 11, living with his mother and stepfather, Martin, whom he calls dad. Chama shields Joseph from the outside world out of fear that the community, which is consumed by ignorance, will discriminate him. It is also apparent that Chama is shielding herself because of the embarrassment and shame that comes with birthing an albino child within that community. Chama also fears having another child, as she is worried it will also be born with albinism. The residents within the community believe Chama is cursed for birthing an albino child. Joseph is home-schooled and not allowed to play outside with the other children in his community. However, one day he finds himself in the city and becomes friends with “the madman”, a man who has been shunned by the community because of his differences. He shares with Joseph that they are both living through similar experiences. Here, Joseph is introduced to the guitar and develops a particular interest in music. On his way home from school, gang members fascinated by his albinism kidnap Joseph but see him as a threat and as a product of witchcraft. They leave Joseph hospitalized, and it forces him to move back in with his biological father and his father’s new family, where things take a turn for the worse. The film ends with a grown-up Joseph who finds refuge in music and returns to “the madman’s” house to thank him for never giving up on him.

One key issue that becomes apparent as the film progresses is that Joseph has to move back in with his father’s new family. It is a family he doesn’t know, and he experiences rejection, abuse and lies. The topics presented and explored within this drama are ones that social workers may witness in their practice. This drastic change in Joseph’s life mirrors the change that a lot of children and young people must face, from toxic households to foster homes. The instability with change and movement can sometimes affect a child’s experiences and shape them long-term, as they tend to thrive in a stable and nurturing environment. To be taken out of a routine can disrupt their physical, cognitive, and emotional development. As social workers, we must understand this and try to minimize the impact, especially on children’s services.

Key issues in social work, such as violence, abuse, and inequalities, are all highlighted within this drama. Social workers must recognize and practice in an anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory way. Therefore, they aim to eliminate any inequalities faced within society and also be open and accepting of service users they work with, regardless of race, gender, class, or sexuality. Social workers have a duty of care to service users and are there to create awareness, which can be done through such practices. Joseph also had meaningful relationships with individuals who had been advocating for him, such as the madman and his friends. They were his voice when he did not have one, and as social workers, we must advocate and be the voice for those who cannot protect and defend themselves. Although sometimes we might feel powerless, we have the necessary power to advocate and make change. Our job is to empower individuals and make them feel safe and welcomed, all underpinned by our core professional values.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this film because it sheds light on the persistent inequalities within our society. I have also loved how this film captures the different relationships and created and how these relationships were genuine not just based out of curiosity due to Joseph’s skin condition, and despite all the trials and tribulations Joseph faced he became resilient, believed and pursed all his dreams. It also made me appreciate the crucial role of professionals, especially in third-world countries. If Joseph’s community had access to social workers, the issues highlighted in the film could have been resolved, and the ignorance surrounding Joseph and his family would not have been so prevalent. Particularly, Joseph’s mother, who had to start over with a newborn, would have received the necessary support she needed from professionals like social workers. One minor criticism of the film is that I would have liked to see more focus on the rebuilding of Joseph’s relationship with his father and how Joseph was able to move on from the hurt and deceit. This would’ve made the film more realistic rather than ending in such an abrupt manner. However, I do appreciate how the film leaves this open to interpretation by the audience. Overall, this film has emphasized the importance of forgiveness and the need to educate and collaborate with others. It also highlights the significance of mental well-being.

I believe that this film would resonate well with service users and social work students. It teaches us about love, forgiveness, and the lingering issues of ignorance and inequality in our society. For service users, this film can serve as an example that they are not alone in their struggles. It shows that there are individuals who are willing to help and improve their quality of life. We can see this through Joseph’s optimism, no matter what he faced. For students, it will help us recognize the importance of being mindful of how our own biases and values can negatively impact service users. Instead, we must use our values to guide us in remaining professional. This film effectively portrays the complexities and challenges that are still present in the field of social work.