Umlilo’s new documentary shines spotlight on queer people’s reality

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Black sheep has a repertoire for telling authentic African stories and this documentary is no exception. Photo: Supplied
Black sheep has a repertoire for telling authentic African stories and this documentary is no exception. Photo: Supplied


Mask documentary


Available on YouTube:


With a Constitution perceived to be one of the most progressive not only in Africa but in the world, especially in the context of queer rights, South African queer people continue to face violence at the hands of their own communities and the Constitution itself.

Non-binary multidisciplinary artist Siya “Umlilo” Ngcobo aka the Kwaai Diva, has taken control of that narrative with their new avant-garde documentary Mask.

A collaboration with Black Sheep Productions and ALV, the documentary highlights the violence that has ravaged the LGBTQIA+ community. Based on Umlilo’s life, music and journey, it tells a very real story of the African queer diaspora and the real flaws in the protection of LGBTQIA+ people.

With a grayscale grade that creates a nostalgic atmosphere, the documentary beautifully pays homage to queer people – those who have fought and continue to fight – for the equal liberation of their community.

READ: Photos | #JusticeForQueerSA: ‘Don’t ever be afraid to show your colour’

While still able to truly capture the beauty of queer culture through Umlilo’s self-expression, highlighting the most positive parts of a culture that is so rich in history, Mask also intensifies the reality of a queer person’s existence in South Africa. And it reaches an intersectionality which touches on the brutal reality that femme presenting people face.

With thought-provoking conversations about the difficulties of being recognised as a trans or gender non-binary person by society and the Constitution, Mask introduces us to the complexities of gender, sexuality and the erasure of gender-neutral people in South Africa.

Black Sheep has a repertoire for telling authentic African stories and this documentary is no exception.

With the help of Swiss journalist and director Cristina Karrer, Mask tells a story of strength, and of discovery, but also manages to contextualise a very real and dark reality for queer people through the eyes of one intergalactic shape-shifter as they describe themselves to be.

This collaborative venture encapsulates the best parts of storytelling, by using one unique story to reflect the realities of many.

What’s next for Umlilo? An album, which is a continuation of their activism through their art, dealing with black trauma, grief through the Covid-19 pandemic. Their fight for the recognition of equality of gender-neutral and femme bodies in our Constitution continues.

Also on offer for their fans is the live streaming of their concert Lockdown Jams. Kwaai Diva will perform some of their most critically acclaimed songs for their fans.


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