Neptune Frost is a (get ready for it) revolutionary Afrofuturist allegorical science fiction intersex LGBTQ+ musical about hackers and coltan miners living in a strange village that either exists in a dream or exists in another dimension or universe. Neptune Frost was filmed in Rwanda but takes place in Burundi, but an alternate universe version of Burundi.
The film, which premiered to acclaim at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, is the brainchild of its two collaborators, who both received director credits. The American musician and poet Saul Williams wrote both the script and the musical contribution and co-directed the film with Rwandan actress and playwright Anisia Uzeyzman, who also served as director of photography. The main characters of the film are Neptune and Matalusa (Bertrand Nintereste). In the middle of the film, Matalusa wakes up one day to find that he is a woman. Two different actors portrayed the character, one before the change (Elvis Ngabo) and one after the transformation (Cheryl Isheja).
The first line of the film is from Neptune, stating that “I was born on my 23rd year,” a line that only makes sense when the character undergoes a miraculous sex change, waking up a woman in a stylish red dress. Since the plot is difficult to comprehend, repeated viewings are recommended by those who initially do not understand the film, but if you’re still confused by what may be the most wonderfully weird film of 2022, read on.
A Surreal, Revolutionary Story of Self-Discovery
Neptune Frost begins with miners working away under the hot African sun. One of the guards who oversees the coltan miners brutally kills a miner named Tekno for no apparent reason, and the film tracks his bereaved brother, Matalusa, as he goes through time and space in a surreal and beautiful journey of self-discovery and revolutionary zeal, culminating in the relationship between the two lead characters. It is a love that surpasses time and space.
When the two are together in the mystery hacker world that they travel to, they are able to shut down the world’s computers and smartphones, yet somehow they can still use this technology themselves. What they create is nothing short of an anarchistic rebellion, a rising up of the workers against the oppressive colonial powers that mercilessly exploits them.
Neptune Frost Explores Exploitation and Colonialism
There are many elements of the film that make it both weird and unique. Everything has meaning in Neptune Frost, including the clothing people wear. In the hacker village, the people’s clothing has been made out of repurposed computer parts, so that their clothing makes them closer to the liberating technology. The costuming is really extraordinary, and everyone has a unique look, although they all have clothing that incorporates computer parts. “Unanimous Goldmine” is what people say instead of ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye.’ It’s a universal greeting that incorporates socialist values, allowing for the equal spread of wealth to everyone, not just the white colonialists.
As for the white people who are involved in this theft of resources and technology, they are not part of the film. Instead, we have an all-Black cast, and the film tells the story of Black liberation from colonialism. The only exception is when we are shown clips of newscasters talking about the disastrous shutdown of the global internet. These talking heads, who only appear for about one minute, are the only white faces you will see in the film.
The mining of coltan is a great example of the exploitation of colonized and marginalized societies by richer, more industrialized, predominantly white societies. The people who mine the coltan in Burundi are poor and treated terribly, beaten or killed for not working hard enough.
So where does all this coltan go? Coltan is an extremely important ingredient in high-tech devices such as cell phones and smart televisions. The rich and privileged people who benefit from these technologies are far removed from the poor miners who extract the coltan from the Earth. This inequality is what the hackers are protesting against.
Neptune Frost Imagines a Musical World of Limitless Possibility
More than anything else, this is a film about possibilities, in particular possibilities in a nonbinary, intersex, anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-exploitation world. The hackers succeed in pulling off one of the biggest cyber hacks in the history of the computer, shutting down the world system, and thereby empowering themselves. They still have the ability to communicate electronically while the rest of the world descends into chaos. These hackers live in some mystical place, known as Digitaria, perhaps a dreamworld, perhaps another dimension, perhaps an alternate reality. Whatever space the movie occupies, the love between the two main characters centers everything.
Every little detail is weird. The film is filled with wild, bright colors that are meant to be watched on the big screen. The actors themselves are also brightly covered, wearing strange makeup and tattoos and accessories that are just plain weird and original. Even the jewelry they wear is stunningly unique and the obvious product of two visionaries. The film is both weird and original, and these two aspects are strongly tied together. You will see and hear beautifully original and daring sights and sounds.
The musical nature of the film also adds to its weirdness and originality. When Tekno is murdered, the other workers engage in a rhythmic, tribal, percussion-based music of mourning. They swing their tools and pound their drums creating a wonderful music sensation. At the same time, the camera captures the miners so that they are aesthetically pleasing while conducting their mournful death music.
Matalusa is played by a Burundi rapper and he sings most of his dialogue. The characters use music to interact and express themselves — music is an inherent part of their lives. They are miners, and one states that mining is musical, implying their entire lives are musical. Characters seduce each other through verse and communicate in non-traditional ways.
A Serious Rocky Horror Show for the Digital Age
The possibility of effecting radical change in the world and taking down the colonialist, racist, capitalist powers using their own tools is absolutely liberating. By interrupting the cyber world through their hacking, the villagers affect unheard-of change that is felt all over the world, making this a film that instructs its viewers how to rebel against oppression. Opposing the hackers is a government force known only as The Authority, and they control the military wing of the imperialists. The soldiers have an interesting look because they wear bizarre helmets that disguise their faces, reminding us of the dehumanization that occurs under a repressive system.
Although the film is incredibly original, there is a film that is very different but at the same time has a lot in common with Neptune Frost, and that film is the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Both films are science fiction cult musicals featuring nonbinary and LGBTQ+ characters from other planets and dimensions. Both films are wildly original with great catchy musical interludes. The only real difference is that Neptune Frost is not a comedy.
Both films also feature revolutionary individualism, with people creating their own identities and realities. Much of Neptune Frost takes place in a bizarre space that may be a dream or alternate universe. It’s not necessary to completely understand the film to appreciate it. The weirdness does not detract from the film’s message. Instead, the weirdness enhances the message by promoting individuality.
At the heart of the film is a romance between the two leads, a romance that sparks a revolution, the greatest data breach in the history of the Digital Age. Neptune and Matalusa get together, and soon the whole world is in chaos. The otherworldly hacker village they inhabit takes down the global communications system in an act of rebellion and revolution. The message is that change is possible if we work for it, that we can change the world by changing minds and disrupting the status quo.