Zarafa: Animated Film Review

Zarafa ImageI’ve been on a continuous quest to find culturally relevant media for my 6 year old daughter. Now and then I’ll come across some type of media that I find particularly well done or unique. I’ll be sharing my findings here to support the creators and let others know what is out there. This is my first “review”.

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the animated film Zarafa but I’m glad that I did. Zarafa is a historical tale of a young African boy named Maki and his friend girl Soula. Maki escapes from slave traders and ends up befriending a giraffe (zarafa) and his family. This begins his adventure from Africa, through Western Asia, into Europe and back. He is helped along the way by an Arab adventurer named Hassan, a rather reluctant guardian but a man of principle. This is a French film. The version I saw is in French with English subtitles. There’s a version with English overdubs as well but I can’t attest to its quality as I haven’t seen it.

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I found this film to be a revelation. The animation is top notch and the story well written. I’m particularly pleased with the respect it shows for young Maki, Soula and the other Africans that appear in the film. The story is based on the true tale of the first giraffe sent to France in 1827. The character of Maki my be an artistic imagining, but this film is one example of the rich wellspring of subject matter and stories that can be mined from African or African American history. Slavery exists in this film but it’s not a film about slavery. It’s is merely an obstacle to overcome. This is a story about friendship, love, and determination. If you’re a fan of animation or the parent of cartoon loving youngsters, you owe it to yourself and them to give this film a look. 

That said, my daughter has yet to see this film. There are some scenes of menace and the subject matter might be more suitable for an older child. There are also two scenes where gun violence is depicted, one offscreen and the other not. At the end of the day it may not be much worse than the typical animated fare shown on television but you may want to screen it for yourself first and decide whether your child is mature enough for it.

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This also brings up a question that I’m sure many black parents struggle with: when should I introduce my child to the realities of slavery and racism? I’d certainly rather they get it first from me than in the mainstream media or public schools. This film may help start that conversation. I’m looking forward to showing the film to my daughter in the near future. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Zarafa is available here


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