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Schuks Tshabalala

by Mlungu Wasekapa / 19.08.2010

I watched Leon Shitster’s new film Schuks Tshaba-blah-blah and made some notes. I only call him “shitster” because I’m jealous.  Jealous that most hit films in the history of South Africa are Schuster films. Jealous because he seems to be having way too much fun to be making the money he makes while I’m still stuck writing for Mahala. And under a pseudonym. Intentionally installed to protect myself from the vitriolic abuse so easily dished out on Mahala comment boards.
In Grahamstown (and sick of “the arts”) I smoked a fat one and was inevitably too late for the new Twilight instalment. What to see? Toy Story 3? Being a patriotic Saffa, I put my “research and local investment” cap on and bought a ticket to Schuks Tshabalala’s Survival Guide to SA. Eish. Double Eish! 

Leon Schuster is a national treasure (a label we assign reluctantly) and even a tool (far more readily) for social reconciliation. How so? Well he’s been trading in broad South African caricature since Apartheid architects still sincerely believed their ideology was a beacon of humanity in a dark and backward world. The man has longevity. He’s an example of what is possible in life. No matter how kak your film-making and acting may be – with an OK idea that’s somewhat socially relevant (and occasionally funny) – even a soutie van brakpan af can get his films into cinemas and become a multi-millionaire.  
In a complex nod to reality programming, Schucks plays the actor behind “himself” (Leon S as Leon S) just hanging out on set with Shorty (the creepy tokoloshe-like guy in all his films). Then amidst his usual candid camera style skits (some of which I must admit had me and the whole audience crying with laughter – the snake loose in the office – OMG!), Leon decides to become a “black tour guide” for international tourists during the World Cup. Skits pass showing Helen Zille in a great light and Allan Boesak in a shocking light – and even Rob Van Vuuren in a light which leaves one a bit confused – was he part of a plan to out “Schuks”? Or was it clever thinking from a brilliant performer who so far in the skit had painted himself as a bit of, no lets make that, one hell of a doos? Such are the mental wrangles invited by this opus.

You can often tell the quality of a film by the adverts chosen to precede them.  If it feels like the “half-price” bin at the local Musica was ransacked, three B-grade trailers pass your vision in a row, there’s a real good chance that Dolph Lundgren is going to be the main character in the film you are about to watch.

First up was Letters to Juliet about a young American on holiday in Italy falling in love with another white guy – thereby leaving her nice Italian boyfriend (Gael Garcia Bernal). Glaring subtext being nice guy Italian boyfriend is sweet and all but nowhere near as suitable as another blonde blue-eyed American guy for Sophie’s true love. Leave the sleazy Hispanic dude to his restaurant while you and young blue eyes romp around the Italian countryside trying to help two octogenarians hook up!
Then I Now Pronounce You Black and White” – a new local comedy – which actually looked like it had potential. Again it seemed to imply that “inter-racial” cross-cultural marriages are just not a good idea. They are hard to maintain and destined to fail – just an invitation for trouble. Message: Stick to your own kind – it’s the right thing to do. Both trailers implied curiosity across cultural and colour lines goes against the grain. This subtext challenges my relationship – as a whitey in love with a darkie. Eish! Eat that, post-colonial Freudians!  


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