Apartheid and Civil Rights Movies…What Really is the Point?
I made the grave mistake of watching “Kalushi: The Solomon Mahlangu Story” and “Marshall” within a 24 hour period of each other. Both are beautiful movies, one might argue and why would I call my consumption of them a grave mistake. See the problem is this. Kalushi is about a 22 year old boy who is executed during apartheid for his presence after his friend shoots at some white folk. To put context to this, the boy (Solomon) is not present during the shooting, he only comes into the picture when he hears gunshots and his friend has been beaten with an iron rod over his head. Marshall on the other hand is about an NAACP lawyer defending a black man who is accused of raping and trying to kill a white woman. Turns out the two were in a consensual relationship and when the white lady realised she was pregnant with a coloured baby, she decided to make up the lie.
Both stories are beautifully told but the most outrageous thing is…both stories are true. Kalushi follows the story of Mkhontowesizwe cadre Solomon Mahlangu while Marshall follows one of Thurgood Marshall’s many cases. One is a civil rights movie, the other an apartheid movie. Now I am all for social justice, I have no idea how many times I have watched The Butler- or Sarafina and I can’t help but get mad everytime and I end up wondering what the real motive behind civil rights/apartheid movies is.
Certainly these are stories that need to be told, we need to know what happened then. People’s eyes need to be opened to how other people were made to live, I get all that. But more than that, I think these should be used as a starting point for a conversation about reconciliation. However, because that conversation never seems to happen or because it’s a conversation that we have without actually having it, these films will continue to have an inverse effect.
I remember being triggered after watching The Butler and Roots and Marshall and Skin and Sarafina and 12 Years a Slave and Selma and so many other civil rights movies and I could forgive that because I thought, hey, this is history and we’ve evolved past this. Then I watched “When They See Us” and I realised nothing had changed. That’s when these movies go from being eye opening and historically relevant to being a source of frustration.
Frustration- because if anyone paid enough attention to the issue in the beginning we wouldn’t need to be brow beating at the same issues today. We would not need to make “The Hate You Give” in 2018 if someone had paid enough attention to Emmett Till in 1955. It’s the same old story with just different players. So for me, civil rights movies have stopped being about historically educative and they have become more emotional than anything. How many more movies do we need to make about injustices against black people to finally get a reaction about the injustices that black people face? At the end of the day, it just feels pointless because all it does get you angry and bothered for something that is a long way from changing.