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New Hollywood Villains

by Jonathan Beggs, image by Renier Zandberg / 15.04.2010

Ever noticed how mainstream American films always cast the villains and freaks as non-Americans? They’re usually Nazi Germans, demented Brits, dirty Mexicans, Eastern Bloc thugs or Oriental torturers. And now there may just be a new contender for the role of freakish foreign villain: he goes by the name of Afrikaner.

But these are not the Afrikaners that we have come to know as those friendly Ooms and Tannies who like embroidery, God and koeksusters. Instead, they’re a twisted tribe, as seen in the work of photographer Roger Ballen and interweb artists, Die Antwoord.

The two black and white images below – one from Ballen, and one from Die Antwoord – bear a striking resemblance. They’re both nightmare images that come from the dark white heart of Africa.


Roger Ballen, Roar, 2002.

Roger Ballen, an acclaimed American who has lived in Joburg since the 1970’s, has been a documenter of dorp life for 30 years. But he’s no Obie Oberholzer. Instead of Oberholzer’s affectionate portrayal of colourful Karoo characters, Ballen’s work is a bleak black and white documentary of weird “Platteland” freaks. Over the years, these portraits have become increasingly more fictional and fantastic. For his last book, Outland, he moved from documenter to artist, creating sinister settings for his found “objects”, and setting things up to make their portraits even more grotesque.

You’ll see the same kind of disturbing imagery in Die Antwoord’s “Enter the Ninja” music video. Ballen surrounds his portraits with naive Basquiat-style wall scrawlings. Die Antwoord also use naive graphics, but, somewhat appropriately for their B-Boy act, they plunder the back catalogue of Basquiat’s Graffiti Art contemporary, Keith Haring.
Both Ballen and Die Antwoord have enjoyed international attention, because (aside from their obvious quality) they play into a global idea about the Afrikaners: that they are spiritually bankrupt, disturbingly “backward” and evil.


Niel Bekker, Die Antwoord, 2009.

This kind of stereotyping is perfect for Hollywood, who are always looking for foreigners to play The Baddie. You know the drill: The Brits are brainy. The French are romantic. The Italians are passionate. And as for the Afrikaners? Well, they’re the A-List twisted, evil muthafuckas!

I’m beginning to think our local actors are in for a shot at some seriously nasty screen roles. The Afrikaner’s calling card is strong. They’ve had some exposure with The Mummy’s Arnold Vosloo – and Argen Rudd, the evil National Party boer in Lethal Weapon 2 who introduced America to the K-Word. District 9’s Wikus van der Merwe introduced the world to words like “fokken” and “bliksem”. But Wikus was too much of a comedy character (an amiably neurotic buffoon) to be a true villain or freak. For proper freaks, you need to go to the Zef side – a side of life that is getting some significant airplay.

Just to put it into perspective: The biggest youtube video of all time (a home video called “Charlie Bit My Finger”) clocks in at about 175 million hits. Susan Boyle gets 90 million. Die Antwoord’s 3 million doesn’t sound that big by comparison – but when you consider that they’ve achieved more views than new videos from Vampire Weekend or, say, Pop Idols’ Adam Lambert, you have to understand that the Ninja has definitely made an entrance.

Their success, like Roger Ballen’s, has been buoyed by the fact that they present a stereotype that overseas fans will buy.

I mean, even Fred Durst thinks Die Antwoord are way cool! Instead of the usual bunch of “hardcore” guys who populate the MTV charts – guys from Milwaukee with guyliner and satanic undertones – this is the real deal. They’re genuine freaks!! There’s Full Body Tattoos! Darkness! Delinquency! Deformity! Fishbowl Haircuts! Bad Teeth! Rats! Obviously Fred Durst hasn’t yet worked out that they’re an act.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Die Antwoord – and I’m not one to diss a good circus act, or even, a Victorian Freak Show. I like the Bearded Lady and the Man With Four Tits as much as the next guy. And in the current music climate, where showbiz, concept and image are even more important than the music, well done to Die Antwoord for thinking it up Straight Outta Kloof Street, cooking it up a bit on the Cape Flats….and most importantly, for pulling it off so well.

And anyway, should we really care that our biggest white ambassadors (outside Charlize and, um, Ernie) are exploiting a negative stereotype? Probably not. After all, they’re gonna help put us on (and by us I mean us twisted whites) on the map. And there’s one thing worse than being talked about, right?


Roger Ballen, Scavenging, 2005.

So – I’m looking forward to Avatar 2, when slavery on Pandora is run by a group of sadistic Afrikaner outlaws who embark on a legendary Great War with the noble Na’vi – in resplendent 4D. And maybe the lead bad guy will say the word “Vokkit” just as he’s about to die, spawning a global catchphrase. Hey, maybe it’ll even boost tourism….who knows?

And I look forward to a time when Will Smith triumphs over an evil Afrikaans recce freak who’s on a mission to assassinate Obama in an Academy Award Nominated Drama. And I crave the day when zombie movies feature feral Afrikaners wobbling out of graves with combs in their socks. Finally, we have currency and a voice! Sure, it’s a potentially damaging fabrication – but I’m not a Human Rights Lawyer. I’m in advertising. So – to all the aspiring actors out there: It’s time to un-comb your hair, skew your teeth, grab a banjo and get ready to welcome the casting agents….

Opening image mashed from the original: Roger Ballen, Driesie and Casey, twins, Western Transvaal (1993)

Roger Ballen’s images can be seen, and purchased at the Rooke Gallery.

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