(See previous post: “Nelson Mandela: Sidney Poitier and ‘Malcolm X’ Cameo Apperance.”) Besides the Nelson Mandela movies discussed in the previous two posts, South Africa’s apartheid has been portrayed in a number of films in the last few decades. Among the most notable ones are the following:
- Zoltan Korda’s Cry the Beloved Country (1951). Based on Alan Paton’s novel, this British-made film features Canada Lee and Charles Carson as two men struggling to deal with the disastrous consequences of apartheid.
- Ralph Nelson’s The Wilby Conspiracy (1975). Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine star as, respectively, an anti-apartheid South African activist and a British engineer on the run from South Africa’s secret police, headed by racist Nicol Williamson.
- Chris Menges’ A World Apart (1984) is a family drama set in Johannesburg in the early ’60s. Starring Barbara Hershey, Jodhi May, and Jeroen Krabbé, the film — written by Shawn Slovo and based on her own experiences — was criticized by some because it was a (partly) apartheid-themed movie focusing on the plight of white people.
- Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom (1987). Attenborough, whose Best Picture Academy Award winner Gandhi was partly set in South Africa, tackled the story of white journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) and black activist Steven Biko (an absurdly miscast — and Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee — Denzel Washington). Much like A World Apart, Cry Freedom was criticized by some for having a white character at its center.
- Euzhan Palcy’s A Dry White Season (1989). Donald Sutherland stars as a white teacher who becomes an anti-apartheid crusader following the death of a black friend (Winston Ntshona). Also criticized for being an eurocentric apartheid movie, A Dry White Season turned out to be a box office misfire despite its stellar cast: Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Marlon Brando, Janet Suzman, Jürgen Prochnow, Susan Sarandon, Michael Gambon, Zakes Mokae, Leonard Maguire, and John Kani. Screenplay by Colin Welland and Euzhan Palcy, from André Brink’s novel.
- South African filmmaker Darrell Roodt’s Sarafina! (1992). Set at the time of the Soweto Riots, when students rebelled against the implementation of Afrikaans as the language of education, Sarafina! stars Leleti Khumalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Miriam Makeba, and John Kani.
- Darrell Roodt’s Cry the Beloved Country (1995), reportedly the first big-budget movie to come out of South Africa. James Earl Jones and Richard Harris star.
- Tom Hooper’s Red Dust (2004), with Hilary Swank as a South African-raised New York City attorney who returns to the country of childhood to help a local black politician (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who had been tortured during the apartheid era. (Needless to say, no connection to Victor Fleming’s 1932 movie of the same title, a spicy, African-set romantic comedy starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Mary Astor, and Gene Raymond.)
‘Something of Value,’ ‘Hotel Rwanda’: African ethnic divisions on film
Though set in Kenya at the time of the Mau Mau uprising, Richard Brooks’ 1957 drama Something of Value has a similar theme to the apartheid movies, namely, the lingering effects of colonial racism in Africa. Rock Hudson, Sidney Poitier, Dana Wynter, and Wendy Hiller star.
Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda, focusing on the tribal hatred — turned genocidal — between Hutus and Tutsis (a legacy of Belgian colonialism), could be considered as another type of "apartheid" movie. The same could be said about Robert Favreau’s Canadian drama A Sunday in Kigali / Un dimanche à Kigali. Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix, and Nick Nolte are Hotel Rwanda‘s stars, while A Sunday in Kigali features Luc Picard and Fatou N’Diaye.
Marlon Brando A Dry White Season photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.