Solomon Mahlangu goes global
“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.