Like other children her age, the protagonist of Supa Modo is adamant that “Superheroes don’t die”, but director Likarion Wainaina’s heartbreaking debut proves that this isn’t always the case. A superhero film like no other, Supa Modo follows a Kenyan girl named Jo (Stycie Waweru) who takes flight from the harsh realities of life by escaping into a fantasy world of her own making.
At just nine years old, Jo is diagnosed with a terminal illness that threatens to steal her away from the people she loves most. The walls of her bedroom are adorned with superhero posters that inspire her to continue fighting. But it’s not always easy. After she is brought home from hospital, Jo’s sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia) draws her own inspiration from these idols and begins transforming fantasy into reality, encouraging our hero to believe that she possesses real superpowers of her own.
Things start off small. First, Mwix asks Jo to open a tricky jar using her “super strength”, but it’s not long before our pint-sized hero is battling shoplifters with the help of the entire village, who secretly rally together in support of Mwix’s cause. The only person who fights against this plan is Jo’s mother, who remains concerned at how this could affect her daughter’s wellbeing in the long run.
If this all sounds rather heavy, it should come as a relief to hear that Wainaina also threads lighter moments throughout Supa Moda in a way that feels genuine without ever undermining the gravitas of the story. Johnson Chege is charming in the role of Mike, a friend who shares Jo’s deep rooted passion for cinema, and Nyawara Ndambia is painfully convincing as Mwix, trying her best to crack jokes and keep smiling for Jo in the face of overwhelming odds.
None of this would amount to much though without a strong lead to anchor the film, and it’s here that Supa Modo proves itself to be a true heavyweight in the superhero genre. Mwix explains to her mother that Jo really is “A little superhero,” and it’s hard not to believe that too, thanks to newcomer Stycie Waweru.
Whether she’s flying in her dreams or soaring through the sky in her very own amateur movie, Waweru imbues the role with an infectious enthusiasm that establishes Jo as much more than just a victim of circumstance.
Letitia Wright recently made Marvel fans sit up and take notice of young, black heroines thanks to her role as Shuri in Black Panther, and now Waweru picks up that same mantle, challenging and redefining the representation of African women on screen. Not all heroes wear capes, but this one sure does, and she’s more inspiring than the entire roster of the Avengers combined.
A love letter to the power of escapism, a devastating portrayal of grief and a Kenyan family drama that defies stereotypes, Supa Modo serves as an important reminder that even when heroes die, they can continue to inspire others long after they’re gone.
Published 24 Feb 2018
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