Adam in The Boy from Geita (108 Media)

Adam in The Boy from Geita (108 Media)

There was a time in Africa when albino children were starved, poisoned, or drowned at birth before neighbors could discover their existence. Albinos were said to jinx the home. Husbands rejected wives who gave birth to a child with albinism, or rejected the child. Albinos were thought to be soulless, ghosts that walked among the living. Sadly, to this day in Tanzania, this superstition persists.

Director Vic Sarin effectively weaves the cultural background and present-day prejudice into the personal stories of two Tanzanians with albinism: Adam, a boy of 12; and Mariam, a young woman with a small child (who did not inherit the genetic trait). Both were targeted by people they knew for the value of their body parts. The bones of which are sought by witch doctors as ingredients for making potions.

Adam was betrayed by his own father, sent outside the house with a stranger who attacked him with a machete, severing a finger and thumb on one hand and badly injuring his other arm before Adam managed to escape by biting into the man’s testicles. Mariam was attacked in her home by a fellow villager, who hacked off both of Mariam’s arms before her screams brought neighbors running to her aid.

The October release of this film in the United States may not be coincidental. But, despite including macabre ingredients of the typical Halloween fair, The Boy from Geita stands out as a real-life horror story, with Sarin expertly revealing a specter of fear that haunts people with albinism in Tanzania.  Besides the heart-rending accounts related by Adam, Mariam, and others who have survived brutal attacks, Sarin includes frightening reenactments and graphic photos of those who were not fortunate. The people responsible for the mayhem are not prosecuted. Both Adam’s father and Mariam’s attacker still live freely.

A world away, in Vancouver, Canada, Adam’s story attracts the attention of a successful businessman who is also an albino. Peter Ash travels to Africa to meet with Adam, and he quickly realizes that Adam, without his fingers, will have a bleak future, with the probability of an early death. Adam’s one wish is to be able to attend school, so Ash arranges for him to travel to Vancouver, where a team of doctors, nurses and a hospital will donate their time and services to reconstruct Adam’s injured hand. But it is a long and tricky surgery with no guarantee of success. Sarin includes brief footage of the actual procedure.

The film ends with some rays of hope in the form of advocates within Tanzania, who provide a safe house and school for victims, and Ash’s organization, Under the Same Sun, which has successfully involved the U.N. in helping to change laws and educate people about albinism. The documentary serves to shed light for those who have no idea that there are still places where people who have inherited albinism could be hunted down like animals with impunity.

Overall, an excellent choice and a strong dose of present-day horror.

Directed by Vic Sarin
Released by 108 Media
English and Swahili with English subtitles
Canada/Tanzania. 79 min. Not rated