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Spike Lee's new movie tackles racism head-on

By unknown | Feb 19, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

You must have seen Spike Lee's hard-hitting movies in the past.

They must have somehow moved you in the manner they depict the lives of, particularly, African-Americans in relation to their white counterparts.

You must have seen Do the Right Thing, a Lee movie that was released in 1989. It made cinema-goers take notice.

You must also be familiar with Jungle Fever, a movie he released in 1991.

It caused quite a stir in the film industry and the Hollywood cultural establishment.

Lee has since released a number of movies dealing with more or less similar themes - mainly the black experience in relation to other races in the world.

The point is Lee has become a formidable figure and character in Hollywood and the world.

His movies have not only become mainstream, they tackle issues that are as controversial as they are necessary: the black experience in the realm of politics, culture and social interaction.

Lee has just come up with Miracle at St Anna, another movie, which, like the others before, tackles the black experience in America in particular and the world in general.

The movie stars, among others, Derek Luke, who plays the role of Sergeant Stamps, and Michael Early as Sergeant Cummings.

South African cinema-goers in particular and the movie industry in general are livid that they are not going to see this movie any time soon.

The movie, released four months ago, is already making waves in the US and Europe.

Questions are now being asked locally about the logic or illogic of not showing the movie, bearing in mind the similarities in South Africa's and the US's historical backgrounds.

The non-distribution of the movie in South Africa is suspected to be influenced by racism.

South African cultural activists and filmmakers have added their voice to this debate.

They question the role of distribution companies in denying local cinema-goers the chance to see a movie that tackles racism head-on.

Lee's latest release compares the experiences of black American soldiers who fought in World War 2, to those of South African black soldiers in the same war.

Like their white American counterparts, local white soldiers fought in the war alongside their fellow black citizens, and this during the apartheid era when blacks were treated as second-class citizens in their own country.

Local cinema houses and their distribution networks have confirmed that none of them are showing Miracle at St Anna.

They have confirmed that they will not be showing the movie any time soon.

United International Pictures, the main local distributor of Hollywood movies, confirmed that they are not distributing Lee's latest movie in South Africa.

"I have checked our movie list and Miracle at St Anna is definitely not on our schedule. We are not distributing it," said Sharon Naidoo of UIP.

Sowetan has also confirmed that NuMetro and Ster Kinekor do not have the movie on their lists for this year.

"I have checked on our list and the movie is not there," a source at NuMetro said.

The gist of the movie is that the black soldiers were fighting for a country (US) that - at the time - was failing to deal with the issue of racism.

This put those black American soldiers in a moral quandary.

None of the film distribution companies have publicly cited racism as a determining factor in choosing what films to show at cinemas around the country.

However, speaking to local cultural activists, filmmakers and the industry, the subtext that runs through their commentary is racism.

For example, do companies distributing cultural products such as films, books and music play a direct role as to who gets to watch what and by whom?

Vincent Moloi, who produced and directed a documentary on the experiences of black South African soldiers in the Second World War called A Pair of Boots and a Bicycle (2008), said it was sad that the movie will not be shown locally.

He wanted to know why such a culturally enlightening movie was not pulling in movie lovers, but added that it was not the end of the world. "It is sad and discouraging that such a movie of historical significance by a man of Lee's stature is not shown here," Moloi said.

Cultural activist S'fiso Ntuli said: "It is foolhardy for a Ntuli to expect a Van der Merwe to bring something so sensitive for Ntuli to watch and enjoy. Whites are not going to bring movies that show white racism. This is a lesson we must learn."

Ntuli added that it was important for filmmakers to keep on producing films that exposed racism in all its manifestations.

He said it was also important for local black business people to invest in movies that will showcase black talent while fighting racism.

This movie is based on a novel by American writer James McBride.


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