A black man and a black woman pose in a hug for a publicity photo of the film "Cook Off"

Tendai Ryan Nguni and Tendaiishe Chitima star as Prince and Anesu in the Zimbabwean film, "Cook Off."

Credit:

Courtesy of Bongani Kumbula/"Cook Off" 

Sometimes you just need to kick back in front of the TV and watch a rom-com.

Here’s a suggestion: “Cook Off.” 

It’s the story of a single mom who enters a TV cooking competition that might just change her life. Last week, it became the first film from Zimbabwe to get picked up by Netflix.

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“It’s a huge milestone for Zimbabwe. ... It’s the first time ever a film from this side has been seen on such a platform. For us, we see this as a chance to introduce Zimbabwean films to the world.”

Joe Njagu, film producer, "Cook Off"

“It’s a huge milestone for Zimbabwe,” the film’s producer Joe Njagu told The World. “It’s the first time ever a film from this side has been seen on such a platform. For us, we see this as a chance to introduce Zimbabwean films to the world.”

The film, which is in English, centers around the relationship between single mom Anesu, played by Tendaiishe Chitima, and her son, Tapiwa, played by Eugene Zimbudzi, who encourages her to follow her dreams and enter a cooking contest even when Anesu's own mother disapproves.

A woman looks at a boy in a film screen grab

Singer Shingai Shoniwa, who plays herself and Eugene Zimbudzi, who plays Tapiwa, in a screenshot from the Zimbabwean film, "Cook Off."

Credit:

Courtesy of "Cook Off"

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There’s also — of course — a love story that blossoms on the set between Anesu and fellow contestant Prince, played by Zimbabwean hip hop artist Tehn Diamond (Tendai Ryan Nguni). 

“Cook Off” was produced on a shoestring budget of$8,000. Njagu says it was made possible by the fact they could reuse sets — the writer and director of the film is also the director of a Zimbabwean TV show called "Battle of the Chefs," — and the cast and crew agreed to a deferred payment plan. 

The film, which premiered in 2018 at the Durban International Film Festival, was produced in extraordinary circumstances, during the historic ouster of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017.

Related: Dead at 95, Mugabe was one of Africa's most polarizing figures

A man holds a clapperboard as a woman sits at a table looking out a window on a movie set.

Tendie Chitima, who plays Anesu, on the set of "Cook Off."

Credit:

Courtesy of Anel Wessels/"Cook Off"

Njagu is hopeful that “Cook Off” won’t be the last Zimbabwean movie to reach a wider audience.

“It’s still a little film community that’s trying to sprout out and become an industry,” he said. “Why this is such a big deal is this is almost like a springboard to kickstart things, so we can start getting to a place where we can call ourselves a film industry.”

Njagu said he wanted to make “Cook Off” — a love story and underdog story — to challenge Hollywood’s typical depictions of Africa.

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“I always feel that Africa is portrayed in a very negative light: like, it’s synonymous with stories about war, poverty, hunger disease. This was a chance to show the other side of Africa, the other side of Zimbabwe."

Joe Njagu, film producer, "Cook Off"

“I always feel that Africa is portrayed in a very negative light: like, it’s synonymous with stories about war, poverty, hunger disease. This was a chance to show the other side of Africa, the other side of Zimbabwe,” he said.

“This is why I felt like this was a very important story to tell — to change that whole Africa narrative,” he added. 

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