The CineMAfriq program from the Boston University Pardee School of Global Studies African Studies Center held their final film discussion of the semester on Nov. 17 about the Zulu film, “Nabantwa Bam’.” The documentary film follows a family in South Africa, portraying themes of class, ambition, inequality and the lasting effects of Apartheid.
The CineMAfriq program is from the mind of Gabeyehu Adugna, the liaison librarian for the African Studies department at BU. The films were also selected based on the African Studies Center’s taught languages. Adugna said CineMAfriq started as a way to help the African Studies research materials at BU to be more accessible to students and faculty.
“One of the things I thought might help our materials to be used is this film program. If we show films, and around the film’s theme, we bring up book displays,” Adugna said, “so that way, the usage of those books will be increased.”
Rachel Dwyer, the assistant head of African Studies, said “Nabantwa Bam’,” exhibited themes of resilience.
The resilience coincides with where South Africa is today in regards to racism and segregation, Zoliswa Mali, the director of the African Language program, said.
“The disenfranchisement of the people in various spheres of existence, be it social, socio-cultural, or socio-economic, political and everything,” Mali said, “it affected people then and it percolates to today.”
Mali said Apartheid isn’t a singular event in South African history — it “percolates to today.”
When she was young, Beth Restrick, head of the African Studies Library, lived in South Africa in a remote area during Apartheid in the 1980s, she said.
“I was told not to go down to the gate along the main road… as a child, you don’t understand, so we would go to the gate and count cars,” Restrick said. “But there were these huge yellow armored vehicles, which were known as ‘hippos.’ They were basically armored tanks that riot police would use.”
The film also displays the generational gap seen through Apartheid. In a scene close to the conclusion of the film, the grandmother takes her granddaughters to a museum to learn about Nelson Mandela.
“You see the Born Free generation coming up of all colors, you don’t see color as much of a divider anymore,” Restrick said. “Immediately on the surface, it seems like things are better, but there are still those tensions. You still see it in where people choose to live. They made reference to it in the documentary where people choose to shop or not shop.”
The film is multilingual, with the family members switching between English and isiZulu, the language of the amaZulu, a prominent Indigenous group in South Africa.
With the language barrier for some viewers, Adugna said that native speakers were asked to help with cultural cues for non-speakers at the discussion. He said “Nabantwa Bam’” follows an ordinary family and combats common African stereotypes.
“This is outside the stereotype,” Adugna said. “Third World Cinema or African [cinema] can be very political, trying to message that commentary … so this is from their own eyes.”
By watching films, people understand different perspectives more, Dwyer said. Sometimes, perspectives portrayed on the screen may not be accurate, but “the more voices and points of views we get, the better,” she said.
The way the family in the film communicates to one another is unique, Mali said, pointing to the daughter and father’s relationship, which was much more playful and communicative than traditionally observed in South African culture.
“Some people perceived the daughter to come through as being disrespectful to her father,” Mali said. “Traditionally speaking, young people are supposed to be respectful of older people.”
After not visiting South Africa for the past four years, Mali says she expects even more changes to occur out of the traditional norm and says she would experience a “reverse culture shock.”
“Because there’s so much social media, everything is speeding up the change and the mixture of all social norms and values,” Mali said.
Beyond the CinemAfriq program, the African Studies program eagerly creates opportunities open to students and faculty to learn more about African history and culture through discussions and events.
“In the Spring, the language program has Theatre Night,” Adugna said. “They come and one night, they do theatre skits in those different languages.”
Mali said the movie “portrayed what is there” by choosing to focus on one particular family.
“This movie had a good shot because it did not sanitize and only show the beautiful side,” Mali said. “I think it is a good thing that ABC South African Broadcasting Network has given Black people an opportunity to produce their own things, tell their own stories about themselves, act them out, and we get to see them first hand.”