Come Back, Africa (1959)



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Movie Info

A study of a black man living under apartheid in 1959 South Africa.
Documentary , Drama , Special Interest
Directed By:

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Critic Reviews for Come Back, Africa

All Critics (12) | Top Critics (8)

"Come Back, Africa" is most effective as an ethnographic documentary, with cinema verite images of white privilege and black poverty.

Full Review… | May 24, 2012
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic

While the sights and the sounds aren't enough to constitute a great movie in and of themselves, they do result in a fascinating document.

Full Review… | January 26, 2012
Newark Star-Ledger
Top Critic

Come Back, Africa is a work of amazing grace-and a forgotten treasure.

Full Review… | January 24, 2012
Time Out
Top Critic

Rogosin was showing a vital culture on the brink, at the moment when it was calcifying into the form it would hold for more than three decades to come.

Full Review… | January 24, 2012
Village Voice
Top Critic

Come Back, Africa is a timely and remarkable piece of cinema journalism: a matter-of-fact, horrifying study of life in the black depths of South African society.

Full Review… | June 9, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

What it lacks in dramatic structure, it makes up in pictorial urgency.

Full Review… | June 9, 2009
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Come Back, Africa

I went to a conservative Catholic college during the Reagan years. As a lifelong liberal, it was not a triumphal time for me politically. But one thing that seemed to be inarguable was the moral abomination of the Republic of South Africa's system of Apartheid. After several turbulent decades, by the late '80s, South Africa was an international pariah. The pressure of sanctions and isolation made the country unsustainable, and the end of Apartheid seemed - and happily, was - not far beyond the horizon. The reversal of this long-standing human rights atrocity was inevitable. And so I was incapable of response when two friends of mine in college - two perfectly nice - I would even call them sweet - people with whom I had worked on theatrical projects and whose company I enjoyed, calmly and with no sense of embarrassment or self-reproval told me that South Africa was precisely the way it should be, that Apartheid was entirely justified and necessary, that the blacks of that country were uneducable and unfit to govern their own destiny, and that black people generally are inferior and disgusting. I kept waiting for them to start laughing and say, "Nah, just messing with ya!" They never did. I couldn't look at either of them the same way after that. In teaching our youth the history of the 20th century, we will have to explain how, immediately after the grotesque lessons of Nazi Germany, we could allow the system of Apartheid go on for more than 40 years. But South Africa is distant from America and easy to ignore, the Third World seeming a confusing mass of blurring turbulence. As the saying goes, "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." If we're not in a war there - sadly, nowadays, even if we are - we aren't paying much attention. Not that our artists haven't tried to clue us in. In 1959, somehow, an American filmmaker named Lionel Rogosin managed to film a movie in South Africa titled Come Back, Africa. The purpose of the movie is to illustrate to American audiences the active abominations of the South African minority rule. Naturally, South African authorities would never have permitted him to film the movie if they had known its purpose, so Rogosin pretended to make a movie about African music - this music has many pure musical sequences - and hid his more incendiary plotline in secret film shoots. I mean, it's hard enough to make a movie when you have permission to do so. Filming an entire movie in secret in the heart of the oppressive country itself? This is a brave work. The film is not a documentary because it involves a fictional story, although the political context of that story is all too real. The movie is comprised of largely improvised scenes with an amateur cast. The story itself, while quite tragic, is not particularly well plotted, well written or well performed. This couldn't be further from the point, and this is an exceptional film where we overlook such fundamental requirements of good moviemaking. This film was about revealing human rights atrocities to the outside world. Considering the risks taken and the urgency of the message, this movie's place in film history should always be secure.


While the sights and the sounds aren't enough to constitute a great movie in and of themselves, they do result in a fascinating document.

Greg Wood
Greg Wood

"Come Back, Africa" is something of a historical curio. Filmed in secret in Apartheid-era South Africa in 1959, the film follows Zachariah(Zacharia Mgabi), fresh from Zululand, who is looking for work. First, he ends up at a gold mine where he has no experience but receives brief training before being sent into the mines. His intent is to work in Johannesburg where he can establish a home for his family. To such ends, he asks for help from his supervisor but his first job in the city as an in-house servant ends badly. All of that may be news to those watching in 1959, especially with its references to the African National Congress, and other South African political discussions of the day in response to restrictions on the African population. But to those of us watching in 2012 after the huge amount that has already been written on the subject, there is nothing new here in the movie's episodic structure with its reliance on non-professional actors with occasional musical interludes. Plus, the ending is more than a little sudden.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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