Come Back, Africa Reviews
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.
(1959) Come Back, Africa
(There's considerable amount of dialogue is also spoken in native African dialect)
SOCIAL COMMENTARY/ DOCU-DRAMA
Plot less movie centering on African native, Zachariah (Zacharia Mgabi) struggling to find work despite possessing zero work experience is only a backdrop to showcase the poor conditions native Africans have to endure while living under the dominate white rule. Upon this movie being made, civil rights leader, Nelson Mandela was still being incarcerated. Also, the information regarding the making of this movie can be even more fascinating than it would be to watch it.
3 out of 4 stars
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.