Socialist Worker

Night of the Kings—factions and folk tales in unsettling prison drama

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2764

Roman (left) is forced to tell stories in Night of the Kings

Roman (left) is forced to tell stories in Night of the Kings


This strange, folk-tale like fantasy prison thriller might be unlike any film you’ve seen before.

A young petty criminal from the slums of Abidjan, the Ivory Coast, is shoved into the weird world of the Maca prison.

In this fictional version of the real-life jail, the jail is all but run by the prisoners themselves according to seemingly complex folk traditions, customs and laws.

Through these, power struggles between the prisoners play out.

Change is coming and everyone is restless waiting for it.

Prisoner-boss Blackbeard is dying, and his challenger, Lass, wants to run things differently, though not better.

The prison has to be “managed more rationally,” he says.

“The prisoners must stop being our slaves and become our customers.”

In a desperate bid to hold off the inevitable, Blackbeard appoints the new prisoner the “Roman”—who has to tell a story all through the night or be killed.

Like the film itself, Roman mixes real life with folk tale, to tell the story of notorious slum criminal Zama King—spanning Ivory Coast history and merging real life coups with ancient legends.


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