Solomon Mahlangu goes global

CityPress - - News - CHARL BLIGNAUT charl.blignaut@city­press.co.za

“Why are in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences so en­thralled by an anti-apartheid film from South Africa?” I ask Mandla Dube, the co-writer and di­rec­tor of Kalushi, dur­ing a video call to Swe­den.

“Be­cause it’s not an anti-apartheid film,” he replies. “Its themes are uni­ver­sal. It’s a com­ing-of-age story about a young man [free­dom fighter Solomon Mahlangu, nick­named Kalushi] who is pulled into the strug­gle be­cause of po­lice bru­tal­ity. The same is hap­pen­ing in the US with the #Black­LivesMat­ter move­ment.”

The film has been lauded in New York, but to­day Dube’s speak­ing from his ho­tel room in Stock­holm, wear­ing his trade­mark peak cap with a for­mal, pat­terned shirt and a polka-dot tie. Af­ter the call, he’ll head to yet an­other film fes­ti­val, where Kalushi is in com­pe­ti­tion and has been se­lected as the open­ing-night screen­ing. On Wednes­day, the South African am­bas­sador wel­comed the 800 or so VIP guests to CinemAfrica, Scan­di­navia’s largest fes­ti­val for African film. The film has been shown at fes­ti­vals at home, and opened on at least 50 screens across the coun­try on Fe­bru­ary 10, but it’s al­ready be­com­ing fa­mous over­seas.

So far, Thabo Rametsi won the best ac­tor award at the in­au­gu­ral Brics Film Fes­ti­val in In­dia; it won in the best South African film and best orig­i­nal song cat­e­gories at the RapidLion fes­ti­val in Joburg; and it picked up the Chair­man’s Award at the Zanz­ibar In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. More ac­co­lades are bound to fol­low.

CinemAfrica se­lec­tors saw Kalushi in the UK af­ter it had an open­ing-night screen­ing at Film Africa in Lon­don and showed at the BFI Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val on the an­niver­sary of the day Mahlangu was ex­e­cuted.

“We must re­mem­ber that Lon­don­ers, led by Oliver Tambo, came out in their num­bers to de­mand a stay of ex­e­cu­tion at the time,” says Dube.

The Scot­tish se­lec­tors also saw it and in­vited it to Scot­land.

“There was a re­cent case in Scot­land where a black youth was killed in po­lice cus­tody and the au­di­ence re­ally re­lated to the film.”

He was in­vited to screen it and talk about it at a Scot­tish univer­sity: “I chal­lenged the stu­dents to find out what hap­pened to that young man,” says the for­mer lec­turer. And how did Mahlangu’s fam­ily re­spond to Kalushi? “They laughed along with the au­di­ence and came out cry­ing, like many oth­ers did.” Dube con­sulted with them while writ­ing the film. One of the most pow­er­ful as­pects of the film is that it de­mythol­o­gises Mahlangu – show­ing him as a nor­mal man, not a su­per­hero. It’s this, says Dube, that has in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences fall­ing in love with Kalushi.

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