African stories told by AmericansI love African films, I truly do. I love the intricate and yet simple stories that countries such as South Africa and its people have to tell. The events that have transpired over the years make the SA film industry a treasure just waiting to be dug up. There is a deep wealth in our history's untold stories hidden deep in the country’s archives and memory embedded in the thoughts of its people. The rich and often painful history that makes the texture of each film that is made makes me proud to live in this amazing country. It is the growth in the talent and pool of film makers that makes being in this industry worth all the sleepless nights endured in pursuit of writing concepts and ideas with the hope of turning into a film that will travel one day. The ideas and production that the country has been able to create and send out to the world is nothing but brilliant. I don’t just say this because I call this place home, but I say it because the world somehow agrees with me too.

International actors and film makers have left stories in their own country in order to tell ours. Not to say that this shouldn’t be done, but limitations such as money and budgets have unfortunately made brilliant African actors having to play lesser roles as extra’s or supporting cast members whilst American actors have taken the leading roles and spotlight so to speak. It’s not that we do not have actors qualified enough to represent South Africa in films, but we simply do not have the funds that international companies willing to pay for African films do. Having the world wanting to tell African stories is great, it shows an interest in our people and home but having to watch them tell it in their voice as opposed to ours, is simply sad.

Cry freedom, Invictus, Master Harold and the boys, Sarafina, Disgrace, Red dust, Catch a fire and Bopha are all locally inspired films which were shot on African soil. These films all represent various stories and themes that tell of the country’s dark and difficult past. The stories were told and shot from home soil and yet all the leading actors and actresses were American. “Winnie”, a film about struggle hero and former president Nelson Mandela’s ex wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela is an amazing story about a woman that fought for the right to live as a free citizen in a country coming from a past of segregation and pain. It is about a woman willing to sacrifice herself in pursuit of her right to be a black and free woman in South Africa. It is shot in Cape Town and Johannesburg but I only wonder as to why this beautiful story could not be told by an African actor and actress instead of Jennifer Hudson and Terrance Howard? Having received criticism for its lack of authenticity and depth, I do believe if Africa told the story from the beginning to the end this powerful story of resilience and sacrifice would have been an award winning film. Is money the factor that determines whether or not we get to tell our own stories in our own way? I think so. Or is it that we are not capable of acting powerful roles? I think not…

Actress Leleti Khumalo was able to capture the hearts of the world in her role as Sarafina in the award winning musical released in 1992. Terry Pheto’s acting skills in her role as a mother to a kidnapped baby in “Tsotsi” saw the country celebrate as it got awarded for the best film in a foreign language at the Oscars in 2006, so it is not that the country does not have talented actors and actresses, goodness no! The talent is there, just the money to see these films become big and go abroad isn’t.

The usually talented American actor Danny Glover was the lead actor in a film shot in South Africa directed by Morgan Freeman called Bopha!. Created in the early 90’s I bet they meant well when planning this story about a black police man working for a racist government and the betrayal this meant for his community. The story line is very interesting no doubt, dedicating over an hour of your time towards watching the film is worth a shot however his poor African accent and reduced knowledge of the African dialogue made me cringe throughout the whole film. This was not because he was a bad actor, not at all! He is just not an African actor and that’s it. Some American actors have been able to pull off the South African accent such as Denzel Washington in his role as freedom fighter Steve Biko in Cry Freedom, his acting and understanding of the role was indeed well done and carefully crafted but I do believe the likes of veteran actors such as John Kani, Treasure Tshabalala, Winston Ntshona and Jerry Mofokeng would have done the film justice given half a chance to represent the late freedom icon.

I love it when the world marvels at Africa as a story telling hub. It is however unfortunate that it all boils down to who has the money to tell these stories. It’s good that our stories are told but a pity they are done so in an American accent.

Popsvila Vilakazi