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A narrative empty with emotions

Madu is this documentary that has all the ingredients to be a certain hit; sounds like an easy win, huh? An inspirational story of a Nigerian dancer who breaks through the glass ceiling and gets into the big leagues. This is a damn shame because there is so much to appreciate about it.

The documentary runs for about 1 hour and 35 minutes and focuses on Anthony Madu, a Nigerian boy. This went viral when he was seen dancing ballet barefoot in Lagos streets. Right from around here the documentary starts picking up as we see Tony jetting off to enroll in one of the prestigious schools that will lead him towards fulfilling his dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer.

There are lots of bumps in the way, plenty of heartbreak and segments that show Tony faced obstacles getting to where he wanted to be… but that’s basically it. The issue with Madu is that its focus on Tony’s present-day drama never bothers filling you in on anything else. When you can find out more about this inspiring dancer from a 5 minute YouTube video than you can with a 90 minute documentary – you know you have a problem.

This introduces us to the second problem of Madu: its narrow concentration on Tony. Did we get any snippets about how he discovered dance as an outlet for his emotion, what led him there while still dancing on street videos? How did he discover dance as an outlet for his emotion? What does his family do? What kind of job do they have? All these questions are not address at all by this movie.

Then there were others who were generally vague statements going beyond them too. Dance had such effect on Nigeria but what about Africa as whole continent? Where were Tony’s inspirations to dance? And what about rich/poor division which reflects culture bias towards classism or elitism.

There’s so much scope for analysis and diving in deep that the film shies away from. It’s like being a few meters away from a breath-taking view at the top of a mountain and calling it a day halfway up and going back home. You did some climbing but it’s not the most satisfying journey.

However, lot of over-stylized editing and extreme close-up shots we get instead of story. Tony is seen in his most vulnerable states with lens flares, ringing, echoing voices and more. It sometimes seems to be exploitative, especially given that there wasn’t similar kind of attention put into larger narrative.

Nevertheless, Tony’s journey is an inspiration for anyone who wishes to go out of their comfort zone. Not all people do or can find what they are good at . It takes some courage and tenacity to prove naysayers wrong by pursuing one’s dreams. Madu does show this message partially but falls short of fully driving it home.

Certainly, Madu is not a terrible movie by all means. For fly on the wall documentaries lovers, there’s something in it for you to enjoy – mostly people who are into dance. Here and there one of those moves looks pretty good, and some of Tony’s dancing scenes come off so amazingly stylized indeed. Nonetheless, if what you want is a film that satisfies your cravings with a little story, then Disney’s latest documentary is not one of them; this is really sad.

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