THE MAKING OF A SOUTH AFRIKAN FILM
One social commentator once echoed that anyone who claims to be anti-United States of America and always finds fault with everything it does, including who the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences chooses to award an Oscar, is deep inside mushy envious. They hate America simply because they are, and can not be Americans. America reminds them of what they are not. The stars and the stripes are to them what food is to hungry people. They hate America because it reminds them of what they don’t have. Just offer free US Immigration Green cards, the next thing they will be the first ones on the queue in their Levi's jeans, while swallowing hungrily at their McDonald's burgers, chasing it down with Pepsi.That's what surfaced some time ago when a movie made by a South African director When Darkness Falls debuted to rave reviews. People felt the fact that it was made with eleven million American dollars outlawed its integrity. Last year they were shouting that at least Tsotsi has integrity because it was a local film unlike Mr DRUM and that it also went on to win an Oscar.
The above is not meant to say that Tinseltown is run by saints, far from it. Hollywood is a money spinning business and it's a blessing to the average American filmmaker that they realised that a long time ago, as opposed to South African perceptions of what filmmaking should entail. Here, we have put a lot of emphasis on the storytelling aspect, and even go as far as veiling it in patriotism, falling blind to the fact that at the end of the shoot the people infront and behind the cameras must eat. Those edit suites that charge per hour need to be paid for. And those stories need millions of rands to market so as to cajole Vusi, Themba and Maria to budget for their screenings and bring their partners, which is already half a dozen cinemagoers with money to spend.We have stories to tell, no local money to back them and not enough people with money to go and watch them. The equation thus means that we will always have stories, then somebody with money will tell them in a way that some people with money will like them. It's an issue of relativity based on similarity. The US cinemagoers would rather watch Samuel L Jackson in a blue SAPS uniform instead of Vusi Kunene. Interesting though is that they wouldn't pay to watch local actor Ian Roberts playing their famous FBI Director J Edgar Hoover, and here we were thinking they are ignorant they wouldn't know that Roberts is South African the same way they thought Charlize Therron was their own. They are these days forced to tolerate Australians playing Americans. Can we then say that they want their money's worth? No, they want their own people, as is the case with The Last King of Scotland (Forrest Whitaker), Blood Diamonds, Hotel Rwanda, In My Country, Sarafina etc. They love their comfort zones and they can't be blamed for that because they pay for them.That is also why I dare Yizo Yizo founding director Tebogo Mahlatsi to have misled the nation when he said in Y magazine that for him the apex of his filmmaking career will not be when his films can be judged by Hollywood standards, but when they can be critiqued by township people after a screening at a community hall. Lies. Our first experience of bioscopes was foreign prents and for one filmmaker to diss Hollywood either implies psychological self-sabotage or the green eyed monster. Mahlatsi is a typical psychologically-defeated ghetto brother who fails to see the broader plasma picture instead of the 31 centimetre given to him by apartheid. Money, not pride or patriotism makes movies. And good movies make good money which in turn makes the world to go around. I can't imagine Mahlatsi wanting his films to be rated with the millions of Nigerian films that are more popular than Daily Sun.It is very difficult to comprehend the outburst that was caused by the arrival of Samuel L Jackson and French actress Juliete Binoche to star in the making of Antje Krog's novel on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, Country of my Skull. People felt that it should be the norm that when a South African story is filmed it should star local actors. It sounds like a valid argument, but how many local actors take their careers seriously? I was disappointed some years ago when I heard talented actress Pamela Nomvete, who once played a top cop in the TV series The Badge saying that she had never fired a gun, even though she did so in the drama. She disclosed that she never took any firearm lessons prior to her taking up the role. Now, that speaks volumes about commitment, wouldn't you say? US actor Demi Moore had to achieve physical fitness to star in GI Jane (she even shaved her hair for the camera) while Will Smith went beyond fitness for ALI (he voluntarily indulged in Islamic scriptures). Local actors however don't see any problem with playing the roles of sportspeople while their physique resembles that of Fat Albert. And they don't even do crisp sex scenes because apparently their "culture does not allow". Then you tell an American with his money to cast them, no ways. One dreadlocked actor even said that for her to shave her dreads for a role in a film she would demand a million – how cheap and unprofessional. Shave that and get paid before you starve with it, stupid.In Mbongeni Ngema Sarafina screenplay, the presence of Whoopi Goldberg might not be satisfactorily defined, but only she could create the kind of reception the film got overseas. Truly, even Cry the Beloved Country without James Earl Jones and Richard Harris would have been another flop overseas regardless of a local star line up. You don't invest money in a venture and not monitor its chances of growth. It's not to say that such behaviour is good since having Denzil Washington playing Steve Biko in Cry Freedom did not go down well with me, regardless of his dubbed isiXhosa accent. Washington is Oscar material but did not cut it as Biko.
In all probabilities producer Anant Singh, whose long awaited screenplay on Nelson Mandela's life might start shooting soon might choose to differ. It is on record that he's got Morgan Freeman on the cast and a lot of foreigners who will play the roles of South Africans. We still wait to see if that will not affect the local release of the film. Remember Dangerous Ground, starring Ice Cube, Eric Miyeni and Liz Hurley, shot on location here? How many locals actually benefited? Who scored the film soundtrack? Apart from the economy of shooting films here South African stories have always lost the plot when it came to whose money finances them, European or American? The Europeans will obviously demand sub-titles while the Yanks will demand casting, directing and co-production control, resulting in cliché cartoon characters and watered down déjà vu storylines.When there's a coloured character you might as well predict that it will be coming from a dysfunctional family where if the sisters do not have tons of unfathered kids running around the house as if it was a creche, then the tattooed brother has to be a hood or have a pregnant live-in lover. The father must be an alcoholic and always abusing the mother who sells koeksusters to provide for the family.Same with black families. All the kids have issues of race and sexuality, are sensitive to racial innuendo and are never fathered if they are not on parole or playing basketball. You start to wonder if black children grow on trees or are indeed brought by a stork.
Hispanics are always taunted for not being "niggas" or black. They are always helpless snitches who collaborate with "the pigs" and forever roll in packs, wearing white vests or oversize Hawaiian shirts. Only Koreans have family values and own all the liquor stores, which they operate with their wives and kids and they are always victims of robber. By who, you guessed it right, niggas and hispies.
Americans love Oprah while we had serious reservations about The Felicia Show. That's the nature of South Africans. We hate what is ours. We didn't support God is African and Hijack Stories but we queued to watch Matrix Unloaded, Fast and Furious and Harry Potter. Thus, instead of criticizing Hollywood for its excesses we rather rally behind initiatives like Jeremy Nathan's dv8, lobby for more funding to go to the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and build our own industry. American dollars remain money worth considering if one bears in mind that South Africa does not have a culture of investing in its own arts.There's word that even John Kani's successful stage play Nothing But the Truth will be made into a film, guess who'll be starring. It's audition time.