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Sarafina

Whoopi Do Da

by Brandon Edmonds / 13.08.2009

Part 4 in our ongoing saga to root out how Hollywood has defined us. Sarafina, circa 1992. A Disney cartoon etched in wood, but the songs still soar – ‘Freedom is coming Tomorrow!’ – and Whoopi Goldberg has enough warmth, wisdom and strength to power the Las Vegas strip. She’s an Earth Mother. The all-knowing, all-seeing Black Woman. There was one in the Matrix films. There’s one in Benjamin Button.

It’s as if Hollywood has a guilty conscience about the historical misuse of black actresses (from the maid in ‘Gone With the Wind’ who had to sit with the kitchen staff at the Academy Awards to Carrie giving an overly grateful assistant her first pair of Manolo’s in the dire ‘Sex & the City’ movie to Halle Berry’s increasingly comprehensive bouts of nudity to get hired). But Whoopi is Whoopi enough to fleck her character with much needed grit. She comes across as courageous only because the political situation allows her nothing else to be, and wise enough to look beyond it. See it again for Leleti Khumalo’s bowler hat which all good film buffs will immediately associate with Lena Olin’s lithe nakedness in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’.

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RESPONSES (11)
  1. Mel Barnett says:

    You do realise, right, that this is based on one of South Africa’s all time greatest plays to come out of the Protest Theatre movement? It’s more than some ‘Hollywood attempt to redefine us’, is a South African script by a South African playwright about a South African story. Can you guess it? Yes, the Soweto student uprising….

    ‘A Disney cartoon etched in wood’ ? What? What does this even mean?

    And the hat was in the original play.

    Whoopi’s character as ‘all seeing, all knowing’ (ala Benjamin Button and The Matrix), you bullshitting right? Besides which, what the hell does this review even have to do with the play/movie? You mention absolutely zippo about the plot here…Did you watch it? Did you see the play? Do you know your arse from your elbow? Apparently not.

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  2. bubba Hotep says:

    Spot on, Mel. This guy is an idiot and Mahala should axe him fast. But I think they’re looking at ‘foreign actors’ playing South African characters. A history of how we’re ‘played’ by others. Not reviewing films from like 20 years ago…

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  3. Nathan Zeno says:

    Ja, but the book of Unbearable Lightness also had a bowler hat and that was written before the play. But more to the point Age Of Innocence featured multiple bowler hats in the the film but only one is mentioned in the book, written a hundred years ago. Was Scorcese trying to say something about consumerist culture overtaking values, protest and Lena Olin?

    For reviewing films from 20 years ago, watch this space. I, Nathan, will start to attempt that next week.

    I think it kinda says it in the first line tho’ “our ongoing saga to root out how Hollywood has defined us” it’s not a critical dissemination or discussion on Sarafina but rather a little meme point out where outside actors have played us and how they interpret us. Interesting in light of John Malkovitch in Disgrace.

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  4. Mel Barnett says:

    But Nathan & Brandon, this is a SOUTH AFRICAN SCRIPT. So yes, Whoopi is an American actress playing an American part, but a part that was largely defined BY a South African. Now I am sure we can get into a whole debate about how much the director / actors / script writer each define the part, but you have to give a big chunk in the end to the writer who creates the character

    My point here was really that you cannot, in all honesty, compare Whoopi’s part in Sarafina to the Oracle in Matrix. I mean, SERIOUSLY. The part’s have nothing in common apart from being black women played by black women. And you seem to clean forget that every other main part in this movie is played by a South African, and some massively stellar names among them too: Jon Kani, Mbongeni himself, Robert Whitehead….Perhaps a better tack for this piece would have been how South African stories are taken over by production houses rather than focussing in on individual actors.

    And on that note, all of all but one of these articles focus on Black Americans playing Black South Africans. What, other races not African enough? Ghandi not good enough? Eish

    Mahala, I am DEEPLY disappointed in this serious of articles for their lack of insight, diversity and intelligence. Serious let down, chaps.

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  5. dePravin says:

    Pffft… what is she on about? I don’t get it. the writer even says, “the songs still soar”. It’s totally complimentary of Whoopi and Sarafina – and brings up the larger issues of the treatment of black female actors in hollow-wood. I mean come on now Mel? What are you so upset about? Why the knee jerk to a relatively interesting and amiable piece of writing? Were you involved in this flick. Sounds like you were… I searched for you on IMDB but no dice.

    IMHO Whoopi tends to play different versions of herself in all her roles. She’s not exactly prone to metamorphosis and total method acting. In Sarafina she plays Whoopi with a bad South african accent – sounds more Ugandan really. So, why all the sour grapes?

    And theoretically Disgrace is a South African script and so was Cry Freedom and Cry the Beloved Country, Drum and Stander etc. – these are all South African stories – with Americans representing our protagonists. I happen to believe we’ve got quite a bit of unique stuff happening here – the nuances of which American and even British actors tend to miss, or gloss over. That’s what this series is about.

    I still don’t get why you’re so upset. Is Sarafina in your portfolio?

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  6. Carol Reed says:

    I saw this movie at the Carlton center in central jhb when it came out. Black people were laughing at that shit. it’s such a cozy view of the revolution. Ngema (or whatever) has always liked to package things nicely to get the funding.

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  7. Mel Barnett says:

    dePravin: What I’m annoyed about is that he doesn’t seem to know anything about the movie before judging Whoopi’s portrayal. One doesn’t have to be ‘involved’ in a production to know about it. I never said he said (wow tongue twister) AGAINST sarafina, read my friend.

    What I’m critting here is a lack of substantial (or any, actually) discussion of how exactly Whoopi plays her part. How does she, as an american, represent ‘us’, as South Africans in this role in this movie?
    My point is also that, she is one american in a very strong SA cast…not all the protagonists are American. in fact the title character is played by a South African 😉

    Does that explain my annoyance with this piece?

    Carol Reed:
    I must agree that as a movie…it didn’t work so well…as a play its much more effective. Altho…the play was made at time when a black man wasn’t exactly going to get funding from the government to make a play about the (white) police shooting black school kids. but as for the movie…yeeeehhhh, different story hey.

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  8. julius says:

    Anyone heard from that “comedienne” Gilda Blacher in the last few years? She went underground after we put the ubuntu-flavoured fatwa on her for suggesting that Sarafina was agranim for “South African Redistribution of Aids Funds Into Ngema’s Account”

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  9. Mel Barnett says:

    Sarafina got international funding as a movie, hence ole Whoopi as one of the major names. No South African funds behind this baby. As a play – Ngema used his own money from the sucess of Woza Albert! . He fed and housed the whole cast. (that said, your comment did give me a chuckle Julius. Latter day Ngema productions might just fall beneath your anagram :P)

    Check the facts before you start jabbering nonsense opininions, y’all. Peace out, this drama student has had her rant on this blog, especially since the effiable Brandon and editor have yet to come to the party for a more indepth chat.

    I’ll catch y’all around the other blog posts

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  10. Esther says:

    i need someone to explain for me, by anlysing the poster looking at the different anatomical aspects of >> means of this film

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  11. Esther says:

    i need someone to explain for me, by anlysing the poster looking at the different anatomical aspects of >> mean of this film

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