"As the winds of change shift internationally and the world confronts new realities, Africa is taking center stage."--New York African Film Festival Founder Mahen BonettiEarlier this evening I attended a screening for this movie, as part of the 16th Annual New York African Film Festival. As I settled into my chair at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center, I instantly noticed the number of folks in the room dressed to the nines in beautiful dashikis.
As the lights dimmed, audience members were instantly taken to the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, where the two main characters grew up poverty-stricken "in the slums" and were lured into a life of crime as a means to an end. Loosely based on actual events, the film tells the story of Lucky who, after he gets accepted to a university without a scholarship, loses hope in seeking higher education. He, along with his best friend and partner in crime, decide to enroll in "the university of life" instead, foregoing school and earning an A+ in street smarts 101. They start off simple--stealing cars for a crime boss--and later earn enough money for food for their families and other luxuries for them to quit the business. But, just like in the case of many others, they were enticed back in.
After years of making a number of bad decisions, both illegal and legal, Lucky later takes his street smarts and decides, with the help of his friend, to live his life as a full-fledged crime boss, making it his mission to take back what he said white Afrikaans had stolen from Africa--their homes, their land and their culture.
The film addresses the all to familiar themes of political and racial strife in the country. Lucky gets a white Jewish girlfriend who, when asked why she came to the slums, says something like "there's something about poverty that is glamorous to me." It almost seemed like Lucky found a white woman right at the height of his success to almost validate it. Then there's the issue of racism; between the white Afrikaans and the Black Africans; and the Black Africans against other Black Africans. It comes down to an all out war between everyone in the country.
The film captures the strife tearing the city apart, and how one man fought against the system and won in his own way, on his terms.
After the movie, we got a chance to ask the director questions. An audience member asked the director whether he was influence by the movie Scarface. He took the questions right out of my mouth because I too thought the story glorified a life of crime, but also blurred the lines between hero and villain. The director hadn't even seen the Al Pacino movie. He simply stated he was trying to capture what was going on in South Africa and bring one man's story to light, no matter what debate it would cause.
For more info on the African Film Festival and to check out the other featured films, visit www.africanfilmny.org.
Click here to check out the trailer.
My rating: B+