Twenty-five years on- a glimpse into black cinema in post-apartheid South Africa

Published on 22 June 2020 at 10:42

Earlier this year I met with filmmaker Andile Navigator Nodada in Cape Town to discuss the realities of being a black independent filmmaker in South Africa today, more than 25 years after apartheid ended. 

Andile grew up in Philipi, one of the larger townships in Cape Town and has been making films for the last ten years. I was curious to find out if there was a desire for black artists to challenge or revisit the history of apartheid?  During apartheid black filmmakers who were brave enough to challenge the status quo were either arrested and imprisoned or forced into exile. When South African film director Gibson Kente  concluded How Long Must we suffer in 1976 – the first major film made by a black artist to shed light on the violence of apartheid – he was immediately arrested and spent a year in jail. His film was banned and the master negative was given to the archives of the National Film board in Pretoria. 

But Andile says he doesn’t want to make films about apartheid or the segregation experienced by black South Africans. “It is not that we are afraid to do so, it is just that this is a very sensitive topic and we don’t want to take people back there. Yes, it is good to remember but we must let go and not seek revenge.”

Andile makes films to raise awareness of the social issues affecting the townships he grew up in –  all the “difficult topics”, he says, “such as abortion, homosexuality, human trafficking, depression…I want to educate the people in my community”. In 2010 he founded Inqwelo Cinema as a way of introducing cinema to townships, using projectors to stream films, “because,” he says, “people in my community don’t go to the movies much, they don’t have that mindset”.

 After an acrimonious divorce from his wife, with whom he has a daughter, he began to work on his first short film, 2Broken, in order to cope with his sense of loss.

“In my community men generally don’t speak about their personal problems because you don’t want to be seen as weak. After my divorce, I became very depressed and needed to talk to my friends.  I made this film so people know what depression is and that it is OK as a man to talk about it . It is alright to let people know you are not feeling OK”.

His other film, Umona, is the story of a suburban young woman, who after losing her parents, is forced to move to the township of Samora where she subsequently falls victim to human trafficking at the hands of her uncle.

Human trafficking, says Andile, is a big problem in South Africa. “Many people in my community believe it doesn’t exist and blame the women. Sometimes families are involved in it too –  in the trafficking of relatives”

The main protagonist is gay. “I felt it was important to highlight the fact that the main character also faces discrimination in her community because of her sexual orientation. Being gay is taboo in the communities…LGBT people are not really accepted here.”

The release in 2017 of the international co-production The Wound  directed by white South African filmmaker John Trengove, is testament to this. The Wound tells the story of a budding relationship between two men in the context of the ceremony of circumcision practiced by the Xhosa people, an ethnic group living primarily in the Eastern Cape.  Although the film garnered international  attention and won numerous awards, it was deemed too controversial for commercial distribution. A day after its release, screenings were cancelled nation-wide due to protests and intimidation.

The film has also been accused of cultural insensitivity as it portrays intimate rituals considered sacred in the Xhosa community.

“I feel like these international productions don’t respect our culture. They hire people to betray, investigate and expose our rituals –  they take advantage of poor people here. This creates tensions in the community. The ceremony of circumcision is sacred –  it marks the passage from boyhood to manhood. Our black culture was exposed.”

I ask him what films he wants to make in the future? “I want to make films for a ‘mixed’ audience, I want to show films to everyone, to a black and a white audience. For now that is difficult because of the content of my films.”

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2 years ago

Passionate, stronly believe,