Out in Africa

Writing gays and lesbians into the political and social history of South Africa – a history from which LGBT people are so often obscured and ignored.

The documentary, Paving Forward, directed by Mthokozisi Lembethe is short and sharp, but in just 16 minutes manages to write black and lesbian activists into an important political past. The film draws links between the fight for freedom under apartheid and lesbian and gay people, thus writing them into an important political and social history – a history from which LGBT people are so often obscured and ignored. Through interviews with activists, politicians and judges, this short documentary exposes the vast divide between constitutional freedom and equality, and its articulation within society.

The scenes at the funeral of David Kato – the Ugandan gay rights activist who was murdered in 2011 – testify particularly powerfully to the widespread intolerance and hatred toward gay and lesbian people across Africa. Another funeral, of a young lesbian in a township who was stoned, raped and killed due to her sexuality only serve to drive the point home even further; constitutional equality is only a symbol, it’s only a start. Given that the South African constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, this documentary makes startlingly clear how little this trickles down into contemporary society.

In a particularly moving scene, a late-life lesbian discusses her sexuality with her children. It’s astoundingly moving, as her children struggle to grapple with their mother’s identity, frustrated and no doubt fearing the consequences. But, Nosipho Mahola remains firm: “a person must know and own their life.”

The film screens as part of Out in Africa, the continent’s premier festival of gay and lesbian themed films. Running from March 23 to April 1 in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Out In Africa is a showcase of films addressing the issues that confront those who are ‘out’. It’s a nice play on a colonialist turn of phrase too.

“Anders,” by Werner Coetzee tells the story of two young people stuck in some South African white suburbia. The young man is clearly struggling with his sexuality, shown through long close-ups of his brooding face with little dialogue. A friend who works in the supermarket sees his anguish as a means to escape the suburbs, and move to the city. It’s somewhat surreal, filmed in a dark grey palette, its strangeness deriving from the banality that surrounds the characters, struggling with their own difference, yet ironically they completely fit into the surroundings. The final scene, where the young man dresses in his dying grandmothers clothes and finally articulates his difference melts into the banality of the surroundings, he’s wearing a head-scarf and old women’s clothes, his act of defiance – his courage to explore his sexuality – in fact fits into the aesthetics of suburban life completely. Here’s the trailer.

I’d particularly like to see The Secret (still at the top of this post), a film by Fanney Tsimong, described as a ‘soap opera-like story of a gay man’s affair with a closeted married man’. From the parts I’ve seen, it takes on a distinctly Nollywood feel – kitsch, garish colors, a TV feel, and a high-drama story of love and revenge.

Here is the synopsis:

“Generations” [the most popular South African TV soap opera] actor Sipho “C-ga” Masebe’s plays Mandla, openly gay, good looking and searching for love. He bumps into old college buddy Thoriso at a birthday party. Thoriso is married to the controlling Thuli, bent on nothing so much as getting ahead in the upwardly mobile world of the BEE nouveau riche. As Mandla chases Thoriso, worlds and assumptions are overturned and lives altered forever. The climax of the film is a credit to the writer – there’s no preachy quick-fix, rather a reality check of what’s really going on out there. Intriguing contemporary South African cinema.

Here is more information, and a full list of films screening during the festival.

Further Reading

Beyond the headlines

Recent violence across the Eritrean diaspora is being instrumentalized by populists. But the violence is a desperate cry for attention and requires the Eritrean opposition to seize the moment for regime change.

Action required

Held in Nairobi this month, the inaugural Africa Climate Summit is an important step for the continent’s response to climate change. Still, the disasters in Libya and Morocco underscore that rhetoric and declarations are not enough.

The strange non-death of Bantustans

That South African political parties across the spectrum were quick to venerate the politician and Zulu prince Mangosutho Buthelezi, who died last week, demonstrates that the country is still attached to Bantustan ideology.

Shifting the guilt

Even though Israeli novelist Agur Schiff’s latest book is meant to be a satirical reflection on the legacy of slavery and stereotypes about Africa, it ends up reinforcing them.

Banana Republics

Western leftists are arguing among themselves about whether there will be bananas under socialism. In Africa, however, bananas do not necessarily represent the vagaries of capitalism.