Play Your Part – make South Africa a blockbuster

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Above is the current poster being used for Sarafina!.

Ever wondered who has the final say in which Hollywood film, actor or producer wins an Oscar? At the core of this question is the importance of local support. As South Africans, we could learn a thing or two from this success story.

At the beginning of every year, since May 16th back in 1929, the first Academy Awards ceremony was hosted at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room. The ceremony, featuring 270 attendees, and nobody had any idea how big they would get today. M-G-M studio head Louis B. Mayer and his dinner guests, in proposing the creation of what would become the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), was merely looking for ways to benefit the film industry.

Today, every year the world anticipates the recipient of the sought after golden statuette. From the moment any worthy film drops, pundits start sizing up its Oscar prospects. Actors everywhere, and other film professionals get introduced as Academy winner this or nominee that, which presupposes some distinction. But whose decision is it to bestow this honour on anyone? The answer is: voting members of AMPAS or the Academy; just over 8,000 of them at the last count. The Academy does not disclose its members. This secrecy notwithstanding, all film lovers are interested in what they have to say. Film professionals quietly or openly live for the day they will receive the ultimate recognition. How can about 8,000 members of a near-secret Hollywood-based society effectively tell the world which films to watch?

Charity begins at home; so do fame and fortune. Hollywood pictures, with an Academy nomination or award to its name, glides effortlessly to box office records all over the world. Actors with any Oscar nomination are associated with commercial success than their non-Oscar counterparts outside the US. It is assumed they bring gravitas to any film. For South Africa Inc. to become a blockbuster movie, South Africans need to learn to buy local products and uphold their own icons first. Success on the domestic markets provide exports with capital to fund international marketing campaigns.

Sarafina; Mbongeni Ngema’s stage play about Soweto’s 1976 uprisings and the anti-apartheid struggle, needed Whoopi Goldberg as progressive ‘Mistress Masombuka’. Goldberg had just won an Academy Award for her 1990 supporting role in motion-picture Ghost. Cry the Beloved Country, based on the classic novel by Alan Paton, leaned on Academy Award nominee James Earl Jones to attract international attention; in spite of co-starring Africa’s finest Vusi Kunene.

We, South Africans downplay our world-class brands, like Black Coffee, Trevor Noah, Nelson Makamo, Charlize Theron – even when they are big on the world stage. It is a costly socio-cultural malaise, which nonetheless can and must be fixed. For its part, Brand South Africa has been at the forefront of actively making means of inspiring new ways of telling the true the South African story. Among many other initiatives to achieve this has been our Making It Uniquely South Africa series on BBC in the UK. We use this great platform in a region that is our major trading partner and tourism market to showcase incredible South Africans such as ceramicist Andile Dyalvane, interior designer Mpho Vackier, sculptor, professor, poet and writer Pitika Ntuli as well as interior and product designer Thabiso Mjo.

Through our Loeries-Brand SA Young Creatives Award, we inspire young creatives – 27 years or younger from Africa and the Middle East – to tell their stories for us to share with the world. This is an opportunity for participants to win $5,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to the prestigious Loeries Creative Week in August, if they enter their stories before the May 15th deadline.

Wakanda reawakened the centrality of Africa to innovation and scholasticism, again featuring the legendary and creative genius John Kani among a galaxy of stars. IsiNdebele artist Esther Mahlangu continues to blaze our colourfulness on the world stage. Everyday South Africa churns world beaters, but we give disproportionate attention to political stories. It is folly to imagine that western countries have no problems of their own. Yet we buy billions of copies of their music, enriching their artists billionaires and their economy first world. This gives them more money to display their symbols in movies, TV documentaries, soapies, reality TV and in music, sparing us no mind-space for their imperfections. All those dollars belong to us; and we are voluntarily giving them away.

Our patronage helps them attract more investment to grow more of their brands. From Nike to Keeping Up With the Kardashians, our appetite for everything western grows bigger daily and creates bigger cultural industries for everyone else but us. The solution is a conscious campaign to rekindle our African pride; to profile the good about our country before complaining.

By highlighting our own icons, who earn money abroad and plough it back into our local economy, we stand a chance of aggregating pockets of our greatness into concerted campaigns to buy local, support local symbols and fill our cinemas when local productions are showing. Brilliant films like Matwetwe, Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, Deep End and Four Fingers deserve our support just like Bohemian Rhapsody and Daddy’s Little Girls. That is the best honour we can give to Sibusiso Khwinana, the slain South African young actor whose star was dimmed by criminals early this month.

The Matwetwe star and the increasing success of the film which grossed R8-million in just over a week at the box office is a clear demonstration that when we are serious about playing our part in supporting local productions and icons, we can make South Africa win again. This kind of support can only grow our creative industry and encourage the likes of Black Coffee investing in local productions to nurture and raise our talented stars to rise to dominate the world stage.

Rashid Lombard is a Trustee of the Brand South Africa Board of Trustees and CEO of espAfrika, an events management company responsible for staging the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.