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Okayafrica's Top Films of 2014

Okayafrica selects the best African films of 2014, featuring 'Afronauts,' 'Finding Fela,' 'Timbuktu,' 'Miners Shot Down' and more.


Though our Top African Films of 2014 list is by no means comprehensive, we're confident that each of the titles we've picked represent some of the finest cinema pertaining to this site's interests that the last 12 months had to offer. Some have courted controversy from their home governments for addressing "incendiary" subject matter while others have been heralded as highly imaginative celebrations of Afrofuturist landscapes from the past to the present. The projects, from rising stars and celebrated auteurs alike, come from Mauritania, Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and the US, and include documentaries, anthology films, full-length features and shorts that address topics as varied as excessive use of police force in a South African mining community to vignettes delving into the lives of Kenya’s LGBTQI community. Each of these films (and filmmakers) succeeded at pushing cinematic boundaries even further by telling stories that entertained, educated and moved us. Click on through for our selections, listed in no particular order, with commentary from a few of our resident cinephiles.

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Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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