Beasts of No Nation (film)

Beasts of No Nation is a 2015 American-Ghanaian war drama film written, co-produced and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who acted as his own cinematographer, about a young boy who becomes a child soldier as his country goes through a horrific war. Shot in Ghana and starring Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Ama K. Abebrese, Grace Nortey, David Dontoh, and Opeyemi Fagbohungbe, the film is based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala[4], the book itself being named after a Fela Kuti album.

Beasts of No Nation
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCary Joji Fukunaga
Produced by
Screenplay byCary Joji Fukunaga
Based onBeasts of No Nation
by Uzodinma Iweala
Music byDan Romer
CinematographyCary Joji Fukunaga
Edited by
  • Mikkel E. G. Nielsen
  • Pete Beaudreau
Distributed by
Release date
  • September 3, 2015 (2015-09-03) (Venice)
  • October 16, 2015 (2015-10-16) (Worldwide)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[2]
Box office$90,777[3]

It was screened in the main competition section of the 72nd Venice International Film Festival,[5][6] where it won the Marcello Mastroianni Award.[7]

The film was shown in the Special Presentation section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival,[8] and released on Netflix globally and in a limited release by Bleecker Street on October 16, 2015.[9]


A civil war is breaking out in an unspecified West African country. A young boy, Agu, lives in a small village with his parents, older brother, and two younger siblings. Agu's village is located within a "buffer zone" enforced by ECOMOG (referred to as "ECOMOD") troops. Agu's father is a local leader, and aids refugees from the surrounding areas by letting them stay on his land.

The village is informed that the government has fallen, with military-aligned rebels seizing control of the country. With rebel forces headed towards the village, many people flee to the country's capital for safety. Agu's father is able to buy safe transport for his wife and two youngest children, but has to stay behind himself with Agu and his eldest son. Rebel and government forces fight in and around Agu's village. While the rebel soldiers flee, government forces round up the remaining villagers and accuse them of rebellion. As they are about to be executed, Agu's father tells his sons to run shortly before getting shot.

The two boys try to escape, but Agu's brother is killed. Agu evades capture and escapes into the jungle. After wandering for an unspecified amount of time, he is caught up in a guerrilla skirmish. The Native Defense Forces (NDF), a rising rebel faction in the country, adopts Agu into their ranks. Agu's battalion is led by the Commandant, who takes Agu under his wing. Following a brutal initiation process where Agu hacks an innocent captive to death with a machete, Agu becomes a fully-fledged member of the militia.

Agu befriends another young NDF child soldier, Strika, who never speaks. One night, the Commandant summons Agu to his quarters, and rapes him. Strika, another of the Commandant's rape victims, comforts him. Preacher, an older soldier, gives Agu brown-brown to lift his mood. Agu and Strika take part in a number of bloody battles and ambushes. The battalion's success in the taking of several towns, killing hundreds of men, women and children, gains them a summon to the rebel HQ, where the Commandant, accompanied by Agu, Strika, and a few other members of the battalion, go to meet with the NDF leader, Dada Goodblood. They spend an entire night in the waiting area, infuriating the Commandant. When they finally meet the Supreme Commander, he informs the Commandant that he is not being promoted, as he had expected, and is in fact being removed from command. The Commandant's lieutenant, Two I-C, will take control of the battalion, and the Commandant will be given a staff position under the rebel leader. The Commandant views this as an insult, and leaves to "celebrate" his lieutenant's promotion at a brothel. While the soldiers (except for Agu and Strika) spend the night with the brothel's women, one of the women fatally shoots Two I-C. The lieutenant is badly wounded and the Commandant accuses the prostitute of trying to kill the lieutenant. The prostitute pleads with the Commandant and says she shot the lieutenant by accident, but the Commandant and his men shoot the women and leave the city with the battalion.

Now on the run from their own faction, as well as the UN, ECOMOD and government forces, the battalion suffers heavy losses. Airstrikes and supply shortages kill many of them, with Strika being killed by a gunshot during an ambush. The remaining members of the battalion take shelter at a gold mine for several months, hoping to find gold to pay for supplies. Ammunition runs out, leaving the group with no way to defend themselves from encroaching enemy forces. Agu informs the Commandant of this, and he tells Agu that he must take care of him, as all sons must protect their fathers. As they speak, Preacher, now the new lieutenant, rallies the soldiers to abandon their posts and surrender to the UN, as they will surely starve or be killed if they stay. The Commandant at first refuses to let them go, but relents when Agu says they should surrender. The soldiers all abandon the Commandant, leaving him to rave alone. Shortly after, they are detained by UN troops. The younger members of the battalion are sent to a missionary school in a safe part of the country. Agu stays away from the other children, who play games and enjoy the comfort and safety of the school. Agu is tormented by what has happened, and has nightmares about it.

After much time has passed, Agu tells the school's counselor that he has done some terrible things but he won't go into detail. He is afraid the counselor will think he is some kind of "beast." Instead he tells how he used to be a good boy, from a good family, and that his family had loved him. The final scene shows Agu finally joining the other boys as they swim and play in the ocean.



Cary Joji Fukunaga directed his own script, after having worked on it for seven years.[4] It was not until after six years of research on the Sierra Leone Civil War that Fukunaga came across the Beasts of No Nation novel. He told Creative Screenwriting, "I read through the novel and I loved the elegant and concise way that Uzodinma Iweala told the story. I felt that would be the best way to enter the subject."[12]

The dialogue in the screenplay is faithful in form to the novel, originally written in a lighter form of Nigerian Pidgin English known as Krio.[13]

On August 20, 2013, Idris Elba joined the cast of the film adaptation.[4] On June 6, 2014, Ghanaian actors Ama K. Abebrese, Grace Nortey and David Dontoh joined the film.[10] Later, Opeyemi Fagbohungbe also joined the cast.[11]

Red Crown Productions was the financier and producer, along with Primary Productions and Parliament of Owls.[4] On May 17, 2014, Participant Media, along with Mammoth Entertainment, came on board to co-finance the film, initially budgeted at $4.3 million but which ultimately cost about $6 million.[2]

On June 5, 2014, principal photography was underway in the Eastern Region of Ghana.[10][14][15] The film was shot at locations in Koforidua and Ezile Bay at Akwidaa.[16] Dan Romer scored the film.[17]


Netflix bought the worldwide distribution rights for around $12 million. The film was simultaneously released theatrically and online through its subscription video on demand service on October 16, 2015,[18] with Bleecker Street handling the theatrical release.[19] Considering the online release a violation of the traditional 90-day release window of exclusivity to theatres, AMC Cinemas, Carmike Cinemas, Cinemark, and Regal Entertainment Group—four of the largest theater chains in the United States—announced that they would boycott Beasts of No Nation, effectively downgrading it to a limited release at smaller and independent theatres.[9][20] The film was also theatrically released in the UK on October 16, 2015, in Curzon Cinemas.[21]

Critical reception

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 92% based on 137 reviews, with an average rating of 7.84/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Beasts of No Nation finds writer-director Cary Fukunaga working with a talented cast to offer a sobering, uncompromising, yet still somehow hopeful picture of war's human cost."[22] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 79 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favourable reviews".[23]

Idris Elba won the SAG award for his supporting performance, becoming the first movie actor to win a SAG award without being nominated for an Oscar.[24]


In 2015, Artnet published an article suggesting that Fukunaga had appropriated content without crediting the work of Irish artist Richard Mosse,[25] whose work had gained notoriety in the art world for its use of infrared film and stirring depictions of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To support its accusation of plagiarism, the article included direct comparisons of individual frames from the film and original still photographs by Mosse.


Award Category Recipient Result
Cinema for Peace[26] Cinema for Peace Award for Most Valuable Movie of the Year Cary Fukunaga Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role Idris Elba Nominated
Costume Designers Guild Awards Excellence in Costume Design for a Contemporary Film Jenny Eagan Won
Empire Awards[27][28] Best Male Newcomer Abraham Attah Nominated
Film Independent Spirit Awards Best Feature Nominated
Best Director Cary Fukunaga Nominated
Best Male Lead Abraham Attah Won
Best Supporting Male Idris Elba Won
Best Cinematography Cary Joji Fukunaga Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[29] Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture Idris Elba Nominated
Indiana Film Journalists Association Awards[30] Best Film Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cary Joji Fukunaga Nominated
Best Director Cary Joji Fukunaga Nominated
Best Actor Abraham Attah Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Idris Elba Runner-up
National Board of Review[31] Breakthrough Performance Abraham Attah Won
NAACP Image Awards[32] Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Abraham Attah Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Idris Elba Nominated
Outstanding Independent Motion Picture Won
George Foster Peabody Award[33] Excellence Red Crown Productions, Participant Media, Come What May Productions, and New Balloon
(Distributed by Netflix)
Screen Actors Guild Awards Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Abraham Attah, Kurt Egyiawan and Idris Elba Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Idris Elba Won
72nd Venice International Film Festival Marcello Mastroianni Award Abraham Attah Won


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  2. Frater, Patrick (May 17, 2014). "Participant Boarding Idris Elba-Starrer 'Beasts of No Nation'". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  3. "Beasts of No Nation". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  4. Fleming Jr, Mike (August 20, 2013). "Idris Elba To Star In Cary Fukunaga-Helmed 'Beasts Of No Nation'". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  5. "Venice Film Festival: Lido Lineup Builds Awards Season Buzz – Full List". Deadline. Retrieved July 29, 2015.
  6. "Venice Fest Reveals Robust Lineup Featuring Hollywood Stars and International Auteurs". Variety. Retrieved July 29, 2015.
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  15. Yamato, Jen (June 27, 2014). "First Look Photo: Idris Elba In Cary Fukunaga's 'Beasts Of No Nation'". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  16. "Idris Elba to shoot Beasts of No Nation in Ghana". Radio Times. May 27, 2014. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  17. Pete (September 4, 2015). "GRAMMY WINNER DAN ROMER SCORES NETFLIX' 'BEASTS OF NO NATION'". Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2015.
  18. Hurwitz (March 3, 2015). "Netflix to stream 'Beasts of No Nation'". USA TODAY.
  19. McNary, Dave (March 2, 2015). "Netflix Makes Another Bigscreen Splash With 'Beasts of No Nation'". Variety. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  20. "Netflix's Beasts of No Nation boycotted by big four US cinema chains". The Guardian. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  21. Leo Barraclough (September 21, 2015). "Netflix's 'Beasts of No Nation' to Receive U.K. Theatrical Release". Variety. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
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  24. Davis, Clayton (January 30, 2016). "SAG Winners: 'Spotlight' Prevails with Idris Elba Making History as a Non-Oscar Nominee". - By Clayton Davis. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  25. "Did Film Director Rip Off Photographer Richard Mosse? - artnet News". Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  26. ""Cinema for Peace Foundation"". Archived from the original on April 11, 2016. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  27. Nugent, John. "Jameson Empire Awards 2016: Star Wars and Mad Max lead the nominations". Empire. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
  28., Rebecca Lewis for. "Mad Max: Fury Road leads the pack at the 2016 Jameson Empire Awards". Metro. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
  29. Brent Lang (December 10, 2015). "2016 Golden Globes: Lady Gaga, Transparent and Orange Is the New Black Leads the Race". Variety. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  30. "Home | Indiana Film Journalists Association". Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  31. "National Board of Review Announces 2015 Winners". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. December 1, 2015. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  32. "Nominees - NAACP Image Awards Website". Archived from the original on August 28, 2016. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  33. "Netflix Wins Big At 75th Annual Peabody Awards". April 22, 2016.
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