Black people don’t get depressed?

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Sara Chitambo’s documentary Black People Don’t Get Depressed
Sara Chitambo’s documentary Black People Don’t Get Depressed

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“We’ve lost so many people unnecessarily to depression. Jabulani Tsambo, Phumlani Pikoli and vocalist Nichume Siwundla, to name but a few. I’m tired of people feeling alone, hiding and not having options to process their mental health issues.

“This film is born out of frustration that mental health is largely misunderstood in black and African communities. Those living with mental health issues have limited access to treatment and medical options, or remain largely neglected.”

These are the driving sentiments behind film maker Sara Chitambo’s documentary Black People Don’t Get Depressed.

The idea for her cinematic exploration is so enthralling that it has garnered the attention of the Cannes Film Festival.

This after her enticing pitch won her the support of the Durban Film Festival last year, where the International Emerging Film Talent Association offered critical support and guidance to Chitambo and her producer, Cati Weinek.

They pushed them to find global collaborators, which has resulted in the documentary being spotlighted at the Cannes Marché du Film along with three other works in progress by emerging film makers from around the world.

The Marché du Film is the film industry’s biggest annual market and forum where more than 12 500 professionals, including 1 687 buyers and 5 518 film companies, convene.

It’s a layered film with original music, poetry and a social impact campaign that is organically being shaped by the rise in mental health issues during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sara Chitambo

Chitambo said receiving this honour would be a game-changer.

“It will open many doors for the project on a global scale in terms of funding, partnerships and distribution,” she explained.

Sara Chitambo
Sara Chitambo. Photo: Supplied

“Pretty much all of it, from conceptualisation to look and feel. It’s a layered film with original music, poetry and a social impact campaign that is organically being shaped by the rise in mental health issues during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

READ | Covid-19: ‘We’re going to see mental health crisis in SA in next few months’

Taking us through the motifs she will look to invoke, the 40-year-old Chitambo said: “The lack of acknowledgment of mental health issues in our communities is oppressing and reducing black people to narrow perceptions of ourselves. I’m focusing on putting a personal lens to an issue that is rooted in political history, and investigating solutions for a way forward that dignifies people living with mental health issues.”

[Depression] is seen as a bougie thing, izinto zabelungu [white people’s things] and those who do come out are usually seen as weak, wa tefa, an attention seeker.
Sara Chitambo

The film navigates the attitudes of Africans towards mental health and how some believe things such as depression are brought about by evil energies and entities.

“One of the dominant and recurring myths around depression that we’ve encountered while doing this film is that it is witchcraft or a demon that needs to be exorcised and prayed away.

“[Depression] is seen as a bougie thing, izinto zabelungu [white people’s things] and those who do come out are usually seen as weak, wa tefa, an attention seeker. We’ve been misled by the strong black people narrative to our own detriment.”

READ | Celebrities and mental health: A therapist to the stars

She touched on some of the subjects of her documentary, who include lecturer and academic Baba Buntu, comedian Ebenhaezer Dibakwane and Nigerian activist Orezimena Malaka.

“I’m honoured that Dr Sindi van Zyl was the first person to support this idea when I started looking for characters. I met Sindi on Twitter and I found Orezimena in Nigeria through a mental health newsletter I subscribe to. Ian Kamau, who will be doing the poetry, is based in Canada. I met him when he first toured South Africa in 2012, and we’ve stayed in touch and done online virtual therapy sessions as well,” she said.

Chitambo said that, through the subjects’ personal stories and her own search for healing and tools to cope, the film explores the spectrum of depression – from low-level and functional to manic – and demystifies and challenges perceptions about mental illness and mental health.


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Phumlani S Langa 

Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
Phumlani.Sithebe@citypress.co.za
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