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South Africa: Local Movies Need More Black Audiences For Industry To Continue Growing

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act May 14, 2012 at 1:23PM

Continuing to highlight similarities in *struggles* across the Diaspora; in essence, those predominantly Black American/Hollywood-centered matters we discuss/debate often here on S&A, are also sources of concern in other parts of the Diaspora.
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Continuing to highlight similarities in *struggles* across the Diaspora; in essence, those predominantly Black American/Hollywood-centered matters we discuss/debate often here on S&A, are also sources of concern in other parts of the Diaspora.

Reading THIS piece on Variety's website this morning, titled, Lack of black auds hurts S. Africa.

Before even reading the full article, I thought, hmm, where have I heard something somewhat similar to THAT before?

A snip from the piece:

Nearly two decades after the end of apartheid, the South African film industry is still grappling with its legacy as it struggles to bring more black audiences into movie theaters. The cinematic landscape in South Africa largely reflects the geography of apartheid, with most movie theaters located in shopping malls in predominantly white, affluent suburbs. The country's 40 million-strong black population remains largely underserved by plexes, and many industry insiders fear that the South African biz, which has been growing rapidly in recent years, will stagnate if it fails to reach a wider audience.

We've heard this before... so nothing to see here; in 2010, a new initiative was introduced to combat this problem - specifically, the National Film and Video Foundation is implementing its plan to bring more digital cinemas into black townships across the country, by building from scratch or rehabilitating one cinema in each of the country's nine provinces.

The government-funded project will cost R30 million (about $3.8 million) over the next three years.

There was this quote from a related Cineurope piece which I wasn't quite sure how to interpret: "The black audience... has not invested in film and watching film as much as maybe the white audience has."

I can only assume that it means black audiences in South Africa, the majority, don't care as much about cinema as white audiences... something which I find hard to believe. And if it were the case, I'm left to wonder if it's apathy brought about by a similar matter of a lack of representation of themselves (lack of variety) in South African cinema (even though they are in the majority), as well as control of those images; or is it strictly an economic problem.

Another similarity I noted in the writeup is a problem of proximity to theaters for the majority of black audiences, stating that there aren't many theaters in predominantly black areas, where black audiences can readily go see South African movies, in this post-Apartheid country that's still very much wrestling with issues of class, race and inequality, as distribution of income in South Africa some 17 years after the transition to democracy, may not be all that better than it was while the country was under apartheid.

But it got me thinking about excuses for why Hollywood isn't exactly pouring money into *black films,* one of those being (primarily) their monolithic view of black American audiences specifically; assumptions that black audiences won't support certain kinds of black films (*highbrow,* *challenging,* for lack of better terms), but will flock to others.

It also speaks to the plight of black independent cinema's struggles to reach black audiences beyond major markets like New York and Los Angeles - although with AMC's new indie initiative, we've seen that start to change a bit in the last 12 months.

The NFVF initiative, as the Variety piece notes, is just a start, with much more than that necessary to shift trends - specifically, a boost in locally-produced films given the opportunity to screen in these new theaters that are being built, over Hollywood movies which still dominate.

According to the NFVF, in the first 2 quarters of 2011, locally-made films accounted for less than 4% of total box office. And in all of 2010, they accounted for around 11% of total box office.

I'm sure our friends over at Africa Is A Country have an opinion of this, and I'd love to hear it!


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