Reflecting reality

2010-04-15 00:00

THERE are certain distinct advantages about being new in a city. You go everywhere with a fascinated gaze. Everything is new and nothing ought to be taken for granted.

It was with these starry eyes that I went to a movie house to catch a flick. This at least would be easier to stomach than having to watch Orlando Pirates players continue to punish those of us faithful enough to love them despite their serial infidelity.

And so I got to the Liberty Midlands Mall cinema. They had Alice in Wonderland, Date Night, How To Train Your Dragon and Shutter Island among those I remember. Nothing wrong with these, I thought. Critics love many of them and I am sure they have and will continue to make a lot of money for their creators.

I wondered though, in a city where there is such a large number of people of Indian origin, and so many black Africans, why there were no movies that reflected those people’s realities.

While I may to a very limited degree buy the argument that there are not enough movies about Africans, that certainly cannot be said about the Indian movie industry. Bollywood has hit Hollywood for a six and it continues to be a booming business.

By “black movies” I include the films of the likes of John Singleton, Spike Lee and Tyler Perry whose works remind many of us of how universal the “black experience” tends to be. Nigerian-made movies screened on DStv have also proven themselves a huge hit, with their stars receiving celebrity status when they visit South Africa. There is also a fledgling local movie industry that already has stars such as “Madluphuthu” becoming household names.

Why then is it impossible to see “ourselves” in movies at the mainstream cinemas of our cities? Whose Pietermaritzburg is this, anyway?

How come some people, who are supposed to be as much a part of this city as everyone else, can go to the movie houses and find stories that they have some familiarity with, or are presented with people who look like them, while others are treated by the same cinemas as though they do not exist or do not have life experiences?

The ideal of South Africa, and by extension, Maritzburg, belonging to all who live in it must manifestly be seen to be true if it is not to remain a hollow slogan chanted in the dark days of apartheid rule and now having only sentimental value in the Constitution.

It goes much further than “seeing” ourselves on a big screen. Movies are known to be carriers of culture. One is likely to settle in quicker in say, New York city than in Kiev, the capital city of the Ukraine, because there is more American stuff on TV than there is of this former Soviet Union state.

Furthermore, movies have been known to carry stories that inspire and sometimes radically change the lives of people. That is why some people are so offended that one of the soapies has shown a homosexual kiss, because it is teaching their children “wrong” things about gay people.

It may have been good business in the past to carry on as though white people are the only ones with a perspective, culture or interests, but that cannot be true in present-day South Africa.

Say what you will about black economic empowerment and employment equity, but the fact is that they created a cohort of South Africans that not only has disposable cash to part with but also a political and social capacity to demand that they too be heard and seen.

Our many problems notwithstanding, we have made great strides in South Africa over the past two decades and the sooner commerce and industry realise this, the better. Access to middle-class trappings has made me no less black. It has neither made me forget nor disregard perspectives that come from the different vantage points of my past and background, from which I see society.

When one says these things, there is likely to be some genius out there choosing to believe that I advocate the removal of the successful Hollywood business model at our local cinemas. I will be generous and say such readers would have misunderstood me.

The point is that the making of a nation takes more than the work of an iconic former political prisoner who becomes a president without bitterness. All of us have the responsibility. Newspapers too, cannot routinely write about “others” as though they have no voices or perspectives of their own.

The complexity of present-day South Africa requires that we stop seeing ourselves as more South African than our compatriots who may not look like us or share the same sensibilities for Bach or Big Nuz.

The movie house might say it is only giving people what they want, but guess what, that is exactly what I have heard used to explain why Julius Malema is so popular with some of our compatriots.

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