Showcasing characters who speak up
Highlights from the 2017 Montreal International Black Film Festival
The 2017’ s Montreal International Black Film Festival was my first film festival, and my expectations were high. The purpose of this festival goes beyond simply displaying films but raises important political questions. As a black woman, I have no difficulty relating to these topics – but I also welcome those who haven’t experienced these struggles to at least sympathize and to recognize their privilege in contemporary society. The festival’s theme this year was “Speak up/ Exprime- toi”. In other words, the founders of the festival selected films that showcased a character, story, or movement which is not afraid to speak up and take a stand. I watched both the opening film, Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, and Black Lives Matter.
Kalushi: the Story of Solomon Mahlangu
The movie is based on the true story of nineteenyear old Solomon Mahlangu. From his humble community in Mamelodi, South Africa, to his execution by the state in 1976, this narrative feature film touches on the treatment of Black men in South Africa, and their loss of individualism. Mahlangu’s decision to join the liberation movement results from an incident in which he was brutally beaten by the police. On top of his physical beating, spectators also witness emotional humiliation as the police officer pees on Solomon’s body. The camerawork makes the act seem almost casual – there is no sensationalist close- up. For this reason, the scene carries a lot of weight, as it represents the condition of Black people in South Africa. The scene depicts disgusting treatment of the Black body, to the extent that the audience, from the individual spectator to the rest of the population in South Africa, is desensitized. It is just another day, not much different from another.
Following the bloodshed of the 1976 Soweto uprisings, when black school children in South Africa protested the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools, Solomon began rigorous military training with a rebel regime. After his friend Mondy shoots two innocent white men in Johannesburg, Solomon stands trial under the common purpose doctrine, which essentially says that he is as responsible as Mondy is in the lat- ter’s crime. The unfairness of this law is obvious: Solomon faces punishment for another Black man’s crime, while corruption freely runs throughout law enforcement. Even Solomon’s older brother, a police officer, experiences police brutality when other policemen question him.
The state ultimately demands death punishment by hanging, and the film ends with one final battle cry from Solomon, a hero of the rebellion. This is not a cry of hope but rather a call for constant, repeated efforts. It is through this persistence that battles against injustice are won.
Black Lives Matter
Joseph Oesi’s film highlights the exploitation of South Africa’s greatest resource – minerals. This documentary draws in the audience as it bluntly explains the struggle between the histor- ical land owners and foreign exploitation and indulgence.
After South Africa’s African National Congress came to power, corruption and a hunger for wealth pervaded. What should have been the end to inequality instead led to increased exploitation. These political and social inequalities demanded attention, particularly after 34 mineworkers were massacred at Marinkana. The ease with which these workers were killed is unsettling. In response to demanding a livable wage, they were forcefully silenced. The movie displays the exploitation of native people in all of its horror. The workers make only 10 USD a day, and yet, international mining companies are worth billions. I continue to be shocked by the greed of predominantly white countries.
The quote “Africa feeds the world but the world eats without Africa” came to my mind halfway through the film. Capitalist interest takes the food out of the mouths of native communities without remorse. Unofficial contracts are made between mining companies and traditional leaders whose legitimacy is questioned. Community Chiefs are arbitrarily chosen without evidence of their lineage. Mining companies place these pawns in communities to facilitate their guise of working amicably with the populations near the mining sites. Naturally, foreign companies, all at the cost of their brethren, pay these false chiefs a hefty stipend each month. Tension exists three ways between mineworkers, mining companies, and traditional leaders in Mokopane.
The audience is introduced to three rural communities: the Mogales, the Kekanas, and the Mapelas, all who are facing pressure from foreign companies. The latter stood out as one of the inhabitants who courageously challenged the companies was a young woman. She emphasized that the land that she is on is her birthright, it was passed down from generation to generation, as her community lived and died. There are ancestral gravesites which are in danger of being desecrated as mining companies infringe on the area to exploit its resources and peoples. It becomes clear that, at the expense of the country and through the division of local communities, a small elite holds wine glasses that overflow with the blood of a nation.
While the documentary felt overextended in some areas, it succeeded in exploring how South Africa’s resources and inhabitants are exploited by a powerful elite. The unethical and forcible mining of a major resource strips the power of the majority of the South African population. No other place in the world has such a bountiful quantity of platinum and other minerals, and still, it stands that neocolonial greed and exploitation prevents South Africans from keeping their wealth or enjoy the fruits of their labour by.
[The Montreal International Black Film Festival] goes beyond simply displaying films but raises important political questions.
What should have been the end to inequality instead led to increased exploitation.