Music video review – Xenophobia as entertainment?

2014-07-07 10:00

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Cape Town electro producer Haezer’s latest video, Minted, may have won its director silver at the Cannes Lions Festival, but it raises a few uncomfortable questions, write Binwe Adebayo and Grethe Koen

It strays into poverty porn

When I watched Haezer’s new music video, I felt queasy from beginning to end.

While my foot tapped to the dark, edgy beat, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as a show of black bodies in “witch doctor”, victim, criminal and animal form moved in front of me.

Wim Steytler, who directed the video, recently won a young director award at Cannes, and while a long discussion with him briefly pushed my nausea aside, I cannot help but think that his intentions haven’t, and won’t, be understood by Haezer’s audience.

The video features Somalis in the dystopian urban jungle that Joburg is so often depicted as, persecuted by South Africans for their foreignness.

Steytler spent time with a group of Somalis and says he wanted to bring the issue to the attention of the white suburban audience by using a video that they would watch.

Steytler certainly was successful in getting this attention, but he missed the mark when it came to doing the issue justice.

By creating a set of opposed characters in an “us vs them” narrative, he makes it seem like only monsters would ever enact xenophobic violence. The reality is far more disturbing, where foreigners are turned upon by their neighbours, who are ordinary people.

But the video works because it parades a string of stereotypes that appeal to our consciousness.

Steytler calls it magic realism – the meeting between the imagined and the actual – but for an audience without the visual terminology to look deeper, this strays into the territory of poverty porn.

– Binwe Adebayo

Who gets to represent whom?

The issue of who gets to represent whom is a difficult one. Like Steytler, I am a white Afrikaner. And like him, I care very much about stopping the devastation of xenophobia.

But does caring about it – within the safety of my white suburban bubble – make me equipped to represent those who have been affected by it? I’m not so sure.

Haezer’s video is, at face value, shocking, arresting and extremely provocative. With great editing and an obviously decent production budget, it narrates a story of black foreigners who face xenophobic violence in Joburg. My first impulse was to love it. I mean, it’s so edgy.

And that’s the problem. Should using portrayals of the misery of black people be used for entertainment? Has using “issues” become an instant-add to making something “hip”?

Steytler is a talented film maker, and its almost a shame that it was this work that finally gained him international recognition. His brilliant Leja video for Die Heuwels Fantasties managed to portray white poverty without exploiting it for edginess like Die Antwoord always does.

While I am loath to say that one can only ever speak about your own experience, there are limits when it comes to speaking on behalf of someone else’s.

I don’t believe that portraying xenophobia in an electrodance video can be done without the iconography wandering into dubious territory.

Grethe Koen

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