UPDATE: Producer André Scholtz on decision to remove Schuster films: 'I was shocked, but not entirely surprised'

Leon Schuster.
Leon Schuster.
Gallo Images
  • As the Black Lives Matter movement grows around the world its encouraging open and frank conversations about racism. 
  • As a result many streaming services, including Showmax, are reviewing content on their platforms that are deemed racially insensitive. 
  • This has seen many of Leon Schuster's films, in which he uses blackface for comedic effect, being removed.
  • Schuster, who says he is "shocked" by the decision, previously admitted in an interview that blackface is racist.
  • Producer André Scholtz and comedian Rob van Vuuren have also reacted to the news. 

The impact of the Black Lives Matter movement is rippling around the globe encouraging important conversations about racism that was previously swept under the rug.

These conversations, though merely the start of identifying, unpacking and addressing both blatant and systematic racism, are also starting to take place in the entertainment industry.

Last week shows like Little Britain and The Mighty Boosh were removed from streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix for using blackface – a move that many say has been long overdue.

According to Digital Spy "blackface stretches back centuries and its implications are deeply rooted in oppression.

"The use of blackface was particularly prominent in the 1800s as a reaction to anti-slavery campaigns and was a means of mocking Black people. It played into attitudes and ideologies that underpinned transatlantic slavery and segregation."

Local streaming service Showmax recently also started to review content on its platform that could be considered to be racially insensitive. These include a large chunk of films by South African filmmaker Leon Schuster.

Netwerk24 was first to report that six films of the 69-year-old comedian was removed from Showmax and is currently being reviewed. Those include You Must Be Joking, You Must Be Joking Too, Oh Schucks…It’s Schuster, Sweet ‘n Short, Schuks! Pay Back the Money, and Frank and Fearless.

According to Netwerk24 other films by Schuster including Mama Jack, in which Schuster used blackface, and Mr Bones and its sequel, in which he plays a white sangoma, have also been removed from Showmax.

The films raked in millions at the South African box office at the time of their individual releases - even surpassing Hollywood hits like Titanic and Harry Potter. The local box office success has cemented Schuster’s status as one of the most successful filmmakers in SA’s history.

In an interview with Channel24 for the release of Schuks! Pay Back the Money! in 2015 asked why he thinks his films are such a hit with audiences, Schuster said: "I’ve made them used to a certain style of comedy that they seem to like. They like trouble, and they know when Schuster is there, there is trouble. They also like me to rip off the topical stuff be risky and take chances.....and get 'moered!'"

Richard Boorman, head of communication for Showmax, confirmed that several films have been removed from the platform as the streaming service reviews all content that could possibly be racially insensitive.

Benedict Maaga, MultiChoice's senior manager for corporate communications, said Multichoice strongly condemns racism or prejudice of any kind and has in the past also removed content found to be problematic.

SCHUSTER REACTS

Schuster told Netwerk24 that he was "shocked" and "can’t believe that the content of his films does any harm". He said it was "innocent" and just him "pranking people".

However, in an interview with Leonie Wagner from Sunday Times in August 2018 the comedian was "unapologetic about playing on every racial stereotype in his films" but openly admitted that he "does have some regrets about having profited from blackface".

He told Wagner: "I'm so sorry that I can't make Mama Jack 2. If I had a dream come true, my next movie would be Mama Jack 2. But especially on Twitter they said stay away from the blackface, it's not on. It was black people talking to me and you've got to listen. I can't do it because I'll be heavily criticised.

"In the olden days it troubled nobody. But I won't go blackface now, I can't do it. There's not one actor in the world that will. It's just racist." 

Speaking to Channel24, Leon was unable to immediately give further comment on the matter.

FILMMAKERS REACT

Channel24 reached out to producer and production manager André Scholtz, who worked with Leon on several films over the years, for comment as well. 

André said: "I was shocked, but not entirely surprised. Within the global political climate people are sensitive to these topics."

"When the films were made, we never wanted to cause any harm to anyone, and nobody complained. I’ve been working with Leon since 1984 and we never had any negative feedback. Of course, now we’ll completely stay away from it."

ROB VAN VUUREN RESPONDS

Rob van Vuuren on Sunday released a statement in which he apologised for using blackface in a Schuster film which he starred in. In the 2013 movie Schuks! Your Country Needs You Rob, Leon, Lare Birk and Alfred Ntombela prank unsuspecting South Africans in everyday situations.

Rob posted a statement on Twitter in which he said he was "deeply ashamed" and "very sorry for the hurt it has caused."

The 43-year-old comedian further wrote that as a white father of a child of colour he failed to examine his own privilege and prejudice and despite knowing which direction his moral compass was pointing he chose to take the money and run in the opposite direction.

"In the end, the money fades very quickly, but the choices I make stay with me. I betrayed not only myself but also my daughter. Living with the shame of that is a small price to pay for unlearning my prejudices and the growth that comes with accepting the consequences of my behaviour.

"I have a responsibility to myself and my daughter to be better. I apologise unreservedly for the hurt my actions have caused and for contributing to negative stereotypes from a position of power and privilege. I cannot change what I have done but I can be mindful of how I can contribute to the conversation going forward from a position of empathy and humility." 

*This article has been updated with new comments from filmmakers and talent as it became available.

(Sources: Digital Spy, Netwerk24, Sunday Times, Channel24, Bizcommunity)