Tell your story!

2010-04-17 13:35

THE African continent is rich in ­culture, heritage and stories. From the deeds of iconic leaders and ­people such as Shaka, Yaa ­Asantewaa, ­Patrice Lumumba, ­Steve Biko and King Moshoeshoe, to the lives of the ordinary men and women, there are events, ­experiences and lessons that are universal.

As our history fades into memory and we continue failing to document all of these stories, the world moves on, defining our ­future reality for us, without our influence, as Africans.

Sadly, it is others, from outside this continent, who seem to do more to document who we are and where we came from whether it is a website detailing Akan symbols or the ­history of hip life, a business using lessons from Shaka to create ­awareness around internal ­branding or a film that tells the story of Steve Biko.

We sit back and complain about how American producers are ­coming ­into the country to tell South ­African stories using American ­actors while we have the talent right here.

It is never for lack of action on our part but rather because of the deeds of others that we are not ­benefiting from these films.

I have an actor friend who was complaining about this very issue. About how actors such as Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Matt Damon, even Thomas Jane, were given big SA roles when we have so many great South African actors.

Imagine this: someone writes a book on, say, Hugh Masekela and I believe it is a great story so I ­negotiate for rights to produce a film.

I hire scriptwriters to write the perfect script. I raise the capital to produce this film which, by the way, I treat as a business project, not just a great cultural event, and invest that money in the director, crew, actors, locations, etc.

I have the option of getting Will Smith or Aubrey Pooe to play Masekela. Who I choose will impact on whether I am confined to ­“foreign film” at the Oscars or ­theatres across the world, especially the US.

Am I under obligation to sacrifice my requirements for South Africa just because South Africans feel more should be done to ensure that they can tell their own stories? That responsibility lies with the ­filmmakers, the government and bodies such as the National Film and Video Foundation.

Nollywood has become a ­multimillion-dollar industry ­because ­Nigerians found ways to tell their own stories. They found ways to overcome any limitations they had.

Many South Africans look down on these Nigerian films. The other irony is that Africans from other parts of the continent could also complain that South African film doesn’t let them tell their own ­stories.

In Jerusalema, a South African played the part of a Nigerian when there are Nigerian actors in the country. In Blood Diamond, there were South Africans as Ugandans or Congolese.

It is time we stopped pointing ­fingers and started actually doing. As Lebo Mashile said in a poem ... Tell Your Story!

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