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Yesterday (2004): AIDS Drama Stars Exceptional Leleti Khumalo

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Yesterday 2004 Leleti KhumaloYesterday with Leleti Khumalo and Lihle Mvelase: Screened at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, Darrell Roodt’s AIDS drama stars Khumalo as a poor, illiterate Zulu woman who discovers that she’s HIV-positive – and therefore has little time to ensure a better life for her young daughter.
  • Yesterday (2004) review: As a young Zulu wife and mother who discovers that she’s HIV-positive, Leleti Khumalo delivers a heart-wrenching performance in Darrell Roodt’s AIDS drama.
  • Yesterday synopsis: After Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) discovers she has HIV, she travels from her remote Zululand village to Johannesburg to tell her husband (Kenneth Khambula), who, as it happens, had given her the virus. Her purpose now is to remain alive until her daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase), is old enough to start school.

Yesterday (2004) review: Leleti Khumalo’s extraordinary performance makes Darrell Roodt’s Zululand-set AIDS drama a must

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

To date, nowhere has the AIDS pandemic been felt more strongly than in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the southernmost part of the subcontinent.[1] Fittingly, South Africa – where more than 10 percent of the population is living with HIV – is the setting of screenwriter-director Darrell Roodt’s moving AIDS drama Yesterday.

That country’s submission for the 2004 Best Foreign Language Film Academy AwardYesterday depicts the effects of HIV infection in the life of a young Zulu woman.

Although the narrative maintains its focus on the plight of that one individual, the (for non-Zulus) quirkily named title character represents millions of other women, men, and children who are now suffering from – or who have perished as a result of – HIV in that part of the world.

Yesterday plot: The plight of the poor

An illiterate woman living in a remote Zulu village, Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) ekes out a living tilling the soil. So named because her father believed that things had been better in the past, her day-to-day existence consists of a series of back-breaking chores, including walking to the nearest hospital, located several kilometers away, to figure out why she has been feeling so tired.

When Yesterday discovers she has contracted HIV from her husband, John (Kenneth Kambula), a miner working in Johannesburg, she travels to the big city to tell him. At first, John violently refuses to accept the truth, but some time later – as his body is ravaged by AIDS – he returns to the Zulu village.

It’s now up to Yesterday to care for John; for their young daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase); and for herself. In spite of her gradually failing health, she makes up her mind not to succumb to the disease until Beauty starts going to school to get the education – and perhaps the tools to survive on this planet – that she herself never had.

Yesterday movie Leleti KhumaloYesterday with Leleti Khumalo, who delivers an outstanding performance as a Zulu woman fighting poverty, ignorance, and disease in Darrell Roodt’s Zululand-set AIDS drama.

Transported to Zululand

Even if marred by a slow-moving second half and by sporadic incursions into melodrama, Yesterday has much to recommend it.

For starters, Darrell Roodt and cinematographer Michael Alan Brierley make sure that audiences are transported to Zululand, with Brierley’s lenses ably capturing the region’s magnificent vistas. Enveloped by enormous expanses of dry grassland and hillsides, the area around Yesterday’s small village is reminiscent in scope to the American West as seen in Winton C. Hoch- and Bert Glennon-shot John Ford titles like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, and The Searchers.

Additionally, Roodt’s tender, compassionate touch humanizes just about every one of his characters, including those with brief roles. Two examples: A Zulu village teacher and the doctor who first diagnoses Yesterday’s illness, affectingly played by Harriet Lehabe and Camilla Walker, respectively.

Even Yesterday’s husband, initially seen as the villain of the piece, is turned into a figure of pity, a once physically strong man unable to come to terms with his fast-deteriorating health.

Heart-wrenching Leleti Khumalo

As for Yesterday, she draws strength and determination from her condition – not that she has much of a choice, of course, having to take care not only of herself but of her family as well. This mixture of selfless resignation and resilience is brought to life by the film’s greatest asset: Leleti Khumalo.

Prior to this AIDS drama, Khumalo had collaborated with Roodt on the 1992 movie adaptation of the Soweto Uprising-set stage musical Sarafina!, which had earned her a Tony nomination four years earlier, and on the 1995 apartheid drama Cry, the Beloved Country, starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris.

A sensitive, intuitive actress, Leleti Khumalo carries Yesterday on her shoulders while delivering one of the best, most moving performances of the year – or any other year.

Yesterday (2004) cast & crew

Direction & Screenplay: Darrell Roodt (as Darrell James Roodt).

Leleti Khumalo … Yesterday
Lihle Mvelase … Beauty
Kenneth Khambula … John Khumalo
Harriet Lenabe … Teacher
Camilla Walker … Doctor
Nandi Nyembe … Sangoma in Village
Jacob Makgoba … Man at Clinic
Tinah Mnumzana … Matron
Matthew Monika … Security Guard
Mnomi Moabi … Short Teacher

Cinematography: Michael Alan Brierley.

Film Editing: Avril Beukes.

Music: Madala Kunene.

Producers: Anant Singh and Helena Spring.

Production Design: Tiaan van Tonder.

Costume Design: Darion Hing.

Production Companies: Videovision Entertainment | Nelson Mandela Foundation | M-Net | HBO Films | Distant Horizon.

Distributor: HBO Films (United States).

Running Time: 90 min.

Country: South Africa.

Yesterday (2004): AIDS Drama Stars Exceptional Leleti Khumalo” notes

HIV/AIDS prevalence in Sub-Saharan Africa

[1] As found in Robert Steinbrook’s New England Journal of Medicine article “The AIDS epidemic in 2004,” at the end of the previous year South Africa had more HIV cases than any other country: An estimated 5.3 million people (out of 48.6 million South Africans). The estimated total number of AIDS deaths reached 1.5 million.

In neighboring Botswana, the HIV prevalence rate among adults was 37.3 percent.

Update: According to UNICEF, in 2013 there were an estimated 35 million people living with HIV around the world. Home to about 16 percent of the world’s population, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for “the vast majority of people living with AIDS, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.”

In 2012, UNAIDS estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa had 69 percent of the world’s population living with AIDS/HIV, with women accounting for 58 percent of that group.

Yesterday Academy Awards

Yesterday received one Academy Award nomination:

  • Best Foreign Language Film.

Darrell Roodt’s AIDS drama became the first South African production shortlisted in that category.

More award nominations

Curiously, Yesterday was shortlisted for the Primetime Emmy Awards in the Best Made-for-Television Movie category.

It was also one of the contenders in the Independent Spirit Awards’ Best Foreign Film category.

Yesterday reviewed at the AFI FEST (website).

Yesterday movie credits via the British Film Institute (BFI) Catalog website.

Lihle Mvelase and Leleti Khumalo Yesterday movie images: HBO Films.

Yesterday (2004): AIDS Drama Stars Exceptional Leleti Khumalo” last updated in December 2023.

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Vina Hayden -

I am trying to contact Darryll’s father Peter and his wife Astri. I lost touch with them a in 2010 after they moved back to Johannesburg.


Cynthia Mwabi -

Hello I actually don’t intend on commenting, I was simply searching for a way to get in contact with Darrell Roodt with regards to the book by Marguerite Poland entitled : Shades

As most people may know Shades is one of her best books and I had to read it in grade 12 as a set book. It’s a pity that a film hasn’t been made of this book because I’m 100% sure that it would win an award.

The book Shades is a historical novel about life in South Africa in the early 1900s . It doesn’t only contain a love story about France Farborough , Victor Drake( who never truly loved France but saw her as his possession) and Walter Brownly ( Who loved France but was not physically compatible for her) but also speaks of the injustice of life in the mines of South Africa with men who were not allowed to go home when they should and as a result began practising sodomy with the younger mine workers against their will.
It speaks of the story of Benedict Matiwane who was never truly accepting into the Farborough family even though he was constantly told that he was one of them. He found himself in the space between his own people the Xhosas and the Farborough family . It also speaks of Crispin the youngest member of the Farborough family who adored Victor and had a sense of childlike innocence, always seeing life in a positive sense until reality hit him and he couldn’t bear to live any longer and therefore shot a hole into his chest.

Please could somebody make a movie out of this book, I mean it’s brilliant and I think Marguerite Poland is still alive so she would be able to assist in making the film a success .

Cynthia Mwabi

Danisa Muhlanga -

Hi can you please connect me with Leleti Khumalo. I need to ask a huge favour from her. please


Good Day

I intend writing about the represantation of black women bodies in media using a gender focus. my special reference is on the film Yesterday as well as the Caster Semenya Case.

Could you please provide me with information that could be of assistance in completing my work.

scott silverman -

i have been trying to find a cd of the soundtrack for “yesterday” without success. any suggestions?

Alt Film Guide -

@Patricia Ma Gesino

Sorry, but we don’t have contact information for the filmmakers.

We’d suggest you contact the film’s distributors.

Patricia Ma Gesino -

Hi! I’m trying to reach Darrell Roodt in order to invite him to Venezuela, (December 12 to 18, 2008) on behalf of AFRICALA The First African Film Festival in Latin America. I would very much appreciate if you could send him this invitation.

Alt Film Guide -


Sorry, but we don’t have that sort of information.

We’d suggest you contact Yesterday’s South African producers.

Lucy -

not so much a comment, its a query that Ihope you may help me with.Iam
looking for a35mm print for the film yesterday! CAN YOU HELP?
Tried everywhere but seems it was not distributed inthe uk, any idea is
highly appreciated.It is for acharity screening on World AIDS DAY that i
am trying to organise.
thankyou, hope to hear from you.



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