When he turned 10 years in 2001, Luntu Masiza, who was born in Pietermaritzburg, packed his bags and accompanied his mother, who is a nurse, on a long haul flight headed to the UK. It is in Birmingham, UK where he spent his formative years, going to primary school and high school. During this time he immersed himself in English culture and society.
“At the beginning it was really tough as I struggled to fit in, especially with the bullying from the other children at school. But then sooner than later at school I immersed myself in the arts as a way of partly, personal expression, and partly, to escape from the bullying,” he told me in an interview held in one of the restaurants in Maboneng, yesterday, June 22, 2021.
A day before, we had met at a special screening of Some Mother’s Sons, a short film adapted, and written by well known playwright Mike Van Graan, which Masiza and his mates, some of whom he met when he was doing a live performance Degree at AFDA in Cape Town, turned into a beautiful short feature film..
The film is a typically new South African movie that digs deep into uncomfortable issues that sometimes tend to create a gulf in race relations between blacks and whites in South Africa. The screening of Some Mother’s Sons, took place at Bioscope, 44 Stanley, Auckland Park, Johannesburg. The screening during which a select group of people watched this exceptionally well directed film was organized by the Gauteng Film Commission, that is currently on a look out for films produced by young people that they identify and promote at special screenings.
Set in pre-1994 South Africa, but then transitioning into post apartheid South Africa, this is a movie that will make one uncomfortable at times, not because it is badly done, but because the film reflects a reality that we are aware of in contemporary South Africa .
This is the misunderstanding that of defines contemporary South Africa about what kind of society we all want to create. It is often the case in a complex society with diversity of cultures, views and ideologies. The race issue is the main pillar of Some Mother’s Sons. Masiza plays one of the characters in this play, a young man who was affected and battered by the apartheid society, but miraculously defied the pain of those scars and limiting background as he eventually manages to climb the corporate ladder in democratic South Africa as a sharp minded human rights lawyer. But then his best friend, a role played convincingly by fellow Afda graduate actor Francoise Immelman, finds himself on the wrong side of the law..
This character is white and is also a high flying human rights lawyer. He is charged of murder for killing three robbers, one of whom raped his then dead wife, lying in a pool of blood inn a Johannesburg suburb. He caught these criminals in his house where they had attacked his wife, and while lying in a pool of blood, one of them went on and raped her.The robbers and the rapist are black, and the victim is a white middle class woman.
And in this story, ultimately the issue of race comes in, in discussing such violent crimes in society, often pitting black and white people at logger heads as such crimes are reduced to white and black, instead of being seen as crimes committed by bad elements in society. It is this race matrix that carries the film through and the issue of justice versus the rule of law.
The acting is engaging, the script is very South African, dealing with the everyday issues of race, crime and misunderstanding about where a democratic South Africa should be heading.
It is a pity though that this film is not a feature film, but a short feature which is only 24 minutes. When it ends, there is a lingering feeling that it has not explored all the issues that it should. However, the directors and the actors have done their job well, to the extent that it leaves you as an audience member well informed about the different layers the South African’s complexity is made of, especially when it comes to the issue around race and crime and how these two sometimes play out in public debates in uncomfortable ways that tend to divide than unite South Africans for common goals.
Some Mother’s Son however does not attempt to pass judgment, and thank goodness for that. It cleverly leaves the moral decision as to who is wrong and who is right to the viewer. Two strong views though emanate from this and it is between those insist on the rule of law and those that insist rather on justice, as they point out that the rule of law does not always result in justice.
For example, how many people that have committed crimes and yet are not found guilty in a court of law simply because they have big pockets and can afford to hire the best brains in law to defend them? Similarly how many innocent people who are jailed simply because they do not always have the best legal minds to represent them?. And when you bring in the race equation into this matrix, then you have a complex movie, and that is what Some Mother’s Sons is..
“We managed to produce this film during 2020, in some cases rehearsing through zoom, with nothing. No sponsorship, but just us as artists and our friends in the industry who wanted us to succeed and pulled resources such as equipment, their time and talent together to assist.. We could not even afford to pay for their petrol during the shooting of this film. Our hope is that we get an opportunity to do a full feature as some of the issues that are explored by the script could not be explored fully because of the limitation of format, due to budgetary constraints. Currently the film is being well received at film festivals around the world. This is a truly post apartheid South African story that reflects where society is at with regards to race relations and social justice right now,” said Masiza.
Masiza is definitely riding a rising trajectory in the arts in general, film and theatre in particular, as from the time that he graduated in 2018, he has had roles in a number of productions. These include roles in classics such as the island, which performed and was well received at PoPArt in Maboneng in 2018, as well as performing to full houses in The Zchech Republic, also in 2018
This is the same guy who nearly did not become who he is in the arts industry in South Africa, had he continued to live in England as he wished. That could not happen of course and the reasons are complex and need another day to unpack them, except that he hints at another feature film he and his mates are working on to tell that personal story which saw him live England after 13 years of growing up there and feeling like it was home for him. But with the turnout of events in his career he seems not to regret the fact that circumstances forced him to come back home.
“When I came back to South Africa in 2014, a UK organization that helped me to relocate to South Africa also paid for my studies at Afda in Cape Town. In fact it was when I was at Afda that I came across the script of Some Mother’s Sons, during a scene that I had to direct as part of my studies. I then later contacted Mike (Van Graan) to say I wanted to turn this script into a movie. He said fine go ahead for as long as you can find a director. It is then that I asked my mate from the Afda days Francoise whether he would want to be part of this film. He said yes and that was it.”
The results of course is this stunning short film that is though, crying to producers who are willing to invest in a full length feature.
N essence Some Mother’s Son is Some Mothers’ Sons is an adaptation of Mike Van Graan’s renowned play. Set in Jail cells twenty years apart, Some Mother’s Sons juxtaposes the experiences of two friends, Vusi Mataboge and Braam Visser. Whilst Vusi and Braam come from different backgrounds they manage to help each other navigate both the legal and personal landscape of their respective imprisonments.
Although strained at first, their relationship is strengthened as they learn to lean on each other through the traumatic circumstances surrounding their separate arrests.
Masiza revealed that the producers are looking for opportunities to screen Some Mothers Sons at cinema outlets around the country once the situation of Covid-19 improves.
Writer Some Mother’s Son Mike Van Graan
Some Mother’s Son Screenplay Adaptation:…… Mbulelo Grootboom
Director:…………………………………………… Mbulelo Grootboom
Producer:………………………………………….. Alexis Burg
(Executive Producer:……………. Mike Van Graan
CAST…………………………………………………… Luntu Masiza
Nhlanha Den Mkhwanazi
Peter Don Chibumba
Anne – Marie Immelman