Show­cas­ing char­ac­ters who speak up

High­lights from the 2017 Mon­treal In­ter­na­tional Black Film Fes­ti­val

The McGill Daily - - Culture - Ginika Ume- Onyido Cul­ture Writer

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.

Abby Cou­ture | Il­lus­tra­tor

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