Wednesday, June 3, 2009

South African movie Jerusalema - Issues arising

I have watched the South African movie, Jerusalema, about 4 times in the last month. It's pretty good. I personally enjoyed Tsotsi more but Jerusalema has a little more depth. South Africans in general seem to rate it higher than the Oscar-winning Tsotsi. Jerusalema is a movie about Lucky Kunene (played by Rapulano Seiphemo), a regular black South African who tries to make a living in the 'new South Africa', hatches up a plan to enrich himself and then must use his street smarts to survive. Lucky Kunene becomes a crime boss who takes 'affirmative repossession' to a whole new level. The movie won't be as great as it's claimed to be if it didn't throw light on various issues. I am going to discuss a few here.

One big theme in Jerusalema is 'stealing'. The movie takes us to the late 1990's, whene Lucky Kunene and his friend Zakes are introduced to the carjacking business by an older friend, Nazareth. Nazareth has just returned from Russia, when he escaped to during the apartheid days. He is a fugitive pretty much and in his time abroad, he doesn't learn much apart from Ak47's. He calls 'carjacking' affirmative repossession. In the 'new South Africa', black people are bent on recovering some of the riches stolen from them by whites. The cars may not be theirs, but to many people on the streets, it's affirmative repossession.

My Nigerian friend borrowed the movie to watch and didn't miss the Nigerian references in the movie. The Nigerians in the movie were portrayed as drug dealers and pimps. I don't know why they had to choose Nigerians to play such roles in this script but that wasn't cool. Could this be the life some of the Nigerians in South Africa are living? Yes, it turns out some. Lucky Kunene had a line where he claimed Tony Ngu's people had messed up their own country and came to South Africa to mess up theirs as well. Tony Ngu in turn talks about 'entitlement' from Mandela. In 2008, news of xenophobia attacks in South Africa made the rounds and some foreigners there lost their lives. Some people argue the South African government is not doing enough to empower the blacks as their jobs are taken by the 'makwerekwere'. One other thing to note here is that these Nigerian roles are not played by Nigerians. Discuss.

The movie also contrasts life in the townships versus that in the cities. We see a bustling Johannesburg with skyscrapers and busy streets. Hey, they have trotros, danfos, matatus and mini-vans in South Africa as well. Who would have thought? The mini-van scene showcases a preacher doing his work too. The cities have their own projects as well. Hillbrow features many overpopulated apartment buildings which have been run-down. We see a scene shot in the gated communities as well.

Most of the black-white relations we see have to do with law enforcement. There is one relationship that takes form during the movie, an interracial one. Does Lucky Kunene upgrade himself by dating a white woman? That said, I want to see White Wedding. I find it interesting that the white lady was a Jew. Is that so because the movie is entitled Jerusalema? She also made a comment in the movie about white people finding poverty glamorous.

"After every revolution comes a new order". With the Blacks ruling the country and trying to empower their own people, Whites sometimes receive the worse end of the stick. No one goes around snitching in order to get their brother or sister in trouble with the law. The solidarity that existed in the freedom struggle trickles down to most places. Jerusalema is the promised land for Black South Africans, where they can get opportunity and control their destiny somewhat. Lucky Kunene uses a smile, a briefcase and some force to get what he wants.

This was a difficult blog to write. I can't tell how tasking it was to write 'Blacks' and 'Whites'. Ask me why. I don't know. I didn't want to come off as an expert in South African affairs. I was only elaborating on some interesting themes in the movie and setting it up for further discussion. A movie that draws up this much chatter and controversy is a worthwhile watch. I highly recommend the movie, it's one of the best African movies I have ever seen.

(Blog on Jerusalema quotes) .
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