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Marking history


November 08, 2009|Susan King

It's a country with a rich and complicated cinematic history. Over the years, South Africa has served as both an inspiration and backdrop for many compelling dramas, thrillers and yes, comedies too. Here are a few from decades past and present:

'Cry, the Beloved Country' (1951 and 1995)

The first adaptation of Alan Paton's 1948 novel was a British production that starred two American actors -- Canada Lee and Sidney Poitier. Lee plays a poor black minister from the country who travels to the city to find his missing son. He discovers much more, including poverty and suffering caused by an institutional oppression that would later become apartheid. Poitier plays a young pastor who comes to Lee's aid. Because it was shot in South Africa, producer-director Zoltan Korda told the authorities that his performers were not actors but rather indentured servants, thus enabling them to freely associate with the crew. South African Darrell Roodt helmed the 1995 version starring James Earl Jones.

'The Gods Must Be Crazy' (1980, 1984 in the U.S.)

The Sho tribe in the Kalahari Desert come in contact with modern civilization in the form of a Coke bottle dropped from a plane. The slapstick comedy was made by South African director Jamie Uys and financed with South African government funds, but was released as a Botswanan film because of the international embargo against South Africa.

'Cry Freedom' (1987)

Richard Attenborough directed this drama set in the 1970s revolving around an editor (Kevin Kline) of a liberal South African paper who becomes friends with anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko (Denzel Washington, in his Oscar-nominated role). After Biko died at age 30 in police custody, the editor writes a book about Biko but must escape the country to publish it.

'A Dry White Season' (1989)

Martinique-born director Euzhan Palcy helmed this drama set in 1970s South Africa about the protests of schoolchildren in Soweto who wanted to be educated in English, not Afrikaan. The story unfolds around a white South African (Donald Sutherland) who finds his suburban existence upended when his black gardener's son disappears.

'Bopha!' (1993)

Morgan Freeman, who plays Nelson Mandela in the upcoming "Invictus," directed this drama set in 1980 South Africa about a police sergeant (Danny Glover) who has a good relationship with his white captain until he is ordered to raid a secret meeting of students.

'Tsotsi' (2005)

Set in the post-apartheid era, this Oscar-winning film written and directed by Gavin Hood focuses on a hard-bitten criminal teenager from a Soweto township outside of Johannesburg, who has grown up in poverty and despair. After shooting a woman in the stomach during a carjacking, he discovers a baby in the back seat. The decision to take the baby back to his home changes his life forever.

-- Susan King

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