This article appeared in the April 26, 2024 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writingSign up for the Letter here.

Coconut Head Generation (Alain Kassanda, 2023)

Alain Kassanda’s observational documentary Coconut Head Generation opens with a newsreel from 1952 documenting the inauguration of Nigeria’s first university, the University of Ibadan (UI), unveiled by Lord Tedder, then the chancellor of the University of Cambridge. Some 67 years later, this relic of British imperialism would begin fraying at the seams, propelling Nigerian youth to rise up against the state violence becoming increasingly pervasive on and off campus. 

Coconut Head Generation focuses on a movie club at UI called the Thursday Film Series (TFS), in which students screen works that interrogate racial oppression, patriarchy, poverty, and corrupt governance—titles like the Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs (1986) and Med Hondo’s West Indies (1979). These weekly programs spark intense and spirited debate about resisting lingering forms of colonial hegemony, becoming critical spaces for knowledge production outside of the classroom. “We are here to talk about films to broaden our horizons,” one of the students says. 

In 2020, when teacher-led strikes spread across federal universities in Nigeria, thousands of students took to the streets to voice their discontent with the maladministration of these institutions and the state’s disinvestment in public education. Kassanda draws our attention to how universities joined forces with the military apparatus to quell the protests. In response arose the autonomous #endSARS movement, which demanded the abolition of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian police, notorious for its abuses of power against citizens. The film’s final scenes show brutal news and social-media footage of the police murdering dissenters. 

Issues that remain abstract in the TFS discussions become real as the film widens its frame beyond the students to reveal a radical generational shift in the political consciousness of Nigerian youth. The term “coconut head,” a pejorative phrase used by older Nigerians to describe today’s young people as lazy and brainless, is rendered meaningless by Kassanda’s lens: instead, they emerge as insurgent thinkers engaged in collective action for a better and brighter future.

Matene Toure is a freelance writer and critic from the Bronx, and fact-checker at Logic(s) magazine.