Faculty panel says South African films show post-Apartheid woes in Rainbow Natio

Eighteen years after stringent racial segregation ended in South Africa, films from the country are beginning to highlight issues of race, economics, and class.

Last Thursday, six members of Emerson’s faculty came together to discuss an issue that can seem far away: Post-Apartheid South Africa.

The panel had an audience of 25 people and served as a lead- up to this week’s film series on South African films.

Cara Moyer-Duncan, scholar-in-residence in the institute for liberal arts and interdisciplinary studies, and Claire Andrade-Watkins, associate professor of visual and media arts, discussed South African cinema.

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Duncan identified flaws in South African cinema, citing that although the country is becoming a popular filming location, local filmmakers still tend to be unsuccessful in its home market.

“While world-class technicians and facilities are available, they are there first and foremost for international productions,” she said. According to Duncan, most filmmakers rely on government support for their productions and still end up losing money.

Watkins discussed the issue from a more historic point of view. “African cinema was only seen as part of the world canon starting in 1960, so it is still new,” she said.

According to Watkins, films often do not reach their target audiences because movie theaters are sparse in rural areas and the tickets are too expensive for many people.

Both Duncan and Watkins have hope for South African cinema and Watkins even sees it as a tool for political liberation. “When African cinema connects with people in their voice and in a way that is economically viable, then it will be true African cinema,” she said.

The four other panelists discussed their own experiences with South Africa.

For Jonathan Wacks, professor of visual and media arts, South Africa is more personal. Born in Johannesburg, Wacks left South Africa when he was young before returning to direct and produce Crossroads/South Africa.

Wacks said that it is not apparent to him how the economic system has changed. “Socially and culturally, it’s completely different,” he said. “But not from an economic point of view.”

Amy Ansell, dean of liberal arts and director of the institute for liberal arts and interdisciplinary study, was concerned about what happened after decolonization.

“I saw unresolved issues under the veneer of rainbows and miracles,” she said, referring to the refusal of South Africans  to acknowledge the racial hierarchy that still exists to this day.

John Trimbur, a writing, literature, and publishing professor, and Nigel Gibson, director of the honors program, were also part of the panel. Trimbur discussed the problem of asbestos-related diseases being overshadowed on the national agenda, and Gibson discussed the philosopher Fanon and his impact on the country.

Though all the panelists said South Africa has a long way to go, they remained hopeful.

“South Africa is in many ways a beacon to the world,” Wacks said. “There has been a transition, but not yet a revolution.”