Here is a list of films that will make you understand South Africa better


ZULU – 1964

.Zulu is a 1964 historical war film depicting the Battle of Rorke’s Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War.
The film stars Stanley Baker and Michael Caine, in his first starring role

Zulu Dawn (1979) book and war film about the Battle of Isandlwana between British and Zulu military units in 1879 in South Africa. The book was written by Cy Endfield, who co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Anthony Story. The film was directed by Douglas Hickox, and has music by Elmer Bernstein.
Zulu Dawn is a prequel to Zulu, released in 1964, which depicts the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, and was written and co-directed by Cy Enfield

Yesterday is a 2004 South African movie written and directed by Darrell Roodt.
It tells the story of a young mother, called Yesterday (played by Leleti Khumalo), who discovers she has AIDS. Her husband, a migrant mine laborer, who originally gave her the disease, rejects her. Her ambition becomes to live long enough to see her daughter, Beauty, go to school.
This film is the first commercial feature-length production in Zulu

Tsotsi is a 2005 film written and directed by Gavin Hood. The film is an adaptation of the novel Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard. The soundtrack features Kwaito music performed by popular South African artist Zola as well as a score by Mark Kilian and Paul Hepker featuring the voice of South African protest singer/poet Vusi Mahlasela.

Set in a Soweto slum, near Johannesburg, South Africa, the film tells the story of Tsotsi, a young street thug who steals a car only to discover a baby in the back seat.

The film won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006


Drum is a 2004 film based on the life of South African investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo, who worked for the popular Drum magazine, called “the first black lifestyle magazine in Africa.”[1] It was director Zola Maseko‘s first film and deals with the issues of apartheid and the forced removal of residents from Sophiatown. The film was originally to be a six-part television series called Sophiatown Short Stories, though Maseko could not get the funding. The lead roles of Henry Nxumalo and Drum main photographer Jürgen Schadeberg were played by American actors Taye Diggs and Gabriel Mann, while most of the rest of the cast were South African actors.

Catch a Fire is a 2006 dramatic thriller about activists against apartheid in South Africa. The film was directed by Phillip Noyce, from a screenplay written by Shawn Slovo. Slovo’s father, Joe Slovo, and mother Ruth First, leaders of the South African Communist Party and activists in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, appear as characters in the film, while his sister, Robyn Slovo, produced the film and plays their mother Ruth First. Catch a Fire was shot on location in South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique


10 episodes approximately Shaka Zulu was a 1986 television serial directed by William C. Faure and written by Joshua Sinclair for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). It is based on the story of Shaka, king of the Zulu nation from 1816 to 1828, and the writings of the British traders who dealt with him (as such they are portrayed very positively compared to historical accounts of their actions). The series consisted of 50 minutes each in length. The series was based on Sinclair’s novel of the same name.


The Road to Mecca is a play by South Africa‘s Athol Fugard.
It was inspired by the story of Helen Martins who lived in Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape, South Africa and created The Owl House, now a national monument.
The play was performed at the National Theatre in London and then moved to the Spoleto Festival USA in 1987 starring Athol Fugard as the Rev. Marius Byleveld, Charlotte Cornwell as Elsa Barlow and Yvonne Bryceland as Miss Helen. The play won the 1988 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Foreign Play
The 1992 film adaptation of The Road to Mecca, written by Peter Goldsmid, who also co-directed it with Fugard, starred Fugard as the Rev. Marius Byleveld, Kathy Bates as Elsa Barlow, and Yvonne Bryceland as Miss Helen.

Master Harold…and the Boys is a 1985 film by Athol Fugard, adapted from his 1982 play of the same title. This semi-autobiographical film takes place in South Africa during the apartheid era. depicting how institutionalized racism, bigotry or hatred can become absorbed by those who live under it. The original play was banned from production in South Africa.

The Story of an African Farm (published 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron) was South African author Olive Schreiner‘s first published novel. It was an immediate success and has become recognised as one of the first feminist novels.

Stander is a 2003 biographical film about Captain André Stander, a South African police officer who turned into a bank robber, starring Tom Jane.

In My Country is a 2004 film directed by John Boorman, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche. The screenplay, written by Ann Peacock, was based on Antjie Krog‘s memoir Country of My Skull.
A special screening of the film was held for Nelson Mandela in December 2003 in the presence of John Boorman, Juliette Binoche and Robert Chartoff. Mandela liked the film and provided producers with a quote for promotion of the film:
“A beautiful and important film about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It will engage and influence not only South Africans, but people all over the world concerned with the great questions of human reconciliation, forgiveness, and tolerance

Disgrace is a film adapted for the screen by Anna Maria Monticelli from the J. M. Coetzee novel, Disgrace. The film premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival,[1] where it was awarded the Prize of the International Critics.[2]
The film was directed by Monticelli’s husband, Steve Jacobs,[3] and stars John Malkovich alongside South African actress Jessica Haines

District 9 is a science fiction thriller film released in 2009, directed by Neill Blomkamp. It was written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham. The film stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope and David James. Copley plays the role of Wikus van de Merwe,[3] an Afrikaner bureaucrat assigned to relocate a race of extraterrestrial creatures, derogatorily referred to as “prawns“, from District 9, a military-guarded slum in Johannesburg, South Africa, to an internment camp outside the city. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2010, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing.[4]
The story, adapted from Alive in Joburg, a 2005 short film directed by Blomkamp and produced by Copley, pivots on the themes of xenophobia and social segregation. The title and premise of District 9 were inspired by events that took place in District Six, Cape Town during the apartheid era. The film was produced for $30 million and shot on location in Chiawelo, Soweto, presenting fictional interviews, news footage, and video from surveillance cameras in a part-mock documentary style format. A viral marketing campaign began in 2008, at the San Diego Comic-Con, while the theatrical trailer appeared in July 2009. Released by TriStar Pictures, the film opened to critical acclaim on August 14, 2009, in North America and earned $37 million in its opening weekend. Many saw the film as a sleeper hit for its relatively unknown cast and low-budget production, while achieving success and popularity during its theatrical run

Saul Barnard grew up in a family of woodcutters. The woodcutters are scared of the elephants in the forest, but there’s one elephant that never seems to threaten Saul. Tired of being exploited by wood buyers, Saul takes a stand and his father chases him away. He goes to work on the wood buyer MacDonald’s wood yard, where he gets to know MacDonald’s daughter, Kate, and falls in love with her. After a few years (10 years in the film, 2 years in the book) he leaves MacDonald (and Kate) and joins the first prospectors in the forest, searching for gold. Millwood becomes a small town with hotels and bars and houses. Kate appears again. One night, an elephant makes trouble and MacDonald tells Saul’s brother, Jozef, to find the elephant and kill it. Saul hears about this and sets off to find the elephant before Jozef. The film is based on the novel by Dalene Matthee, which was translated from Afrikaans to more than 10 other languages, although the film differs substantially from the book. If you’ve read the book, don’t expect the same story in the film. A lot of the original feeling of powerlessness that Saul experiences, for instance, is lost in the film. Matthee was a South African writer of note who died on 20 February 2005. Written by Alida Viljoen


Jerusalema is based on the story of Lucky Kunene, an underworld figure who in the 1990s took over real estate in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa.[1] Writer-director Ralph Ziman learned about how a gang stole a building in Hillbrow through coercion and began researching the phenomenon, interviewing reporters, police officers, social workers, and lawyers and discovering that the phenomenon was commonplace. Ziman wrote the script for Jerusalema based on his research. He said of the film and its title, “I wanted Jerusalema to take a harsh but realistic look at Johannesburg, but I also wanted to reflect the hopes and aspirations of its citizens. When you look at Hillbrow from a distance, it does look like that shining city on a hill, the New Jerusalem that will be our salvation, but when you get onto its streets, you find another story.” The director also used an African hymn, “Jerusalema”, throughout the film, saying of the intent, “[It] might seem pretty cynical but it also underlines a continuing sense of hope.” Ziman also sought to connect the crime wave to the political changes taking place in South Africa.[2]


Hansie is a feature film, produced in South Africa by Global Creative Studios. It is based on the true story of Hansie Cronje. The south African cricket captain who was involved in match fixing scandal The movie was released on 24 September 2008 in South African cinemas and the Collectors Edition DVD on 24 November 2008.
Lead actors: Frank Rautenbach as Hansie and Sarah Thompson as Bertha

Invictus is a 2009 biographical drama film based on Nelson Mandela‘s life during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film stars Morgan Freeman as South African President Mandela and Matt Damon as François Pienaar, the South African team captain.[2] The story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation. Invictus was released in the United States on December 11, 2009

The Gods Must Be Crazy 1980

is a 1980 film, written and directed by Jamie Uys. The film is the first in The Gods Must Be Crazy series of films. Set in Botswana and South Africa, it tells the story of Xi, a Sho of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian San farmer Nǃxau) whose band has no knowledge of the world beyond. The film is followed by four sequels, the final three of which were made in Hong Kong

Cry Freedom (1987)
Starring: Kevin Kline, Denzel Washington, Director: Richard Attenborough
Sir Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) directs this semi-successful drama about the real life relationship between South African black activist Steven Biko and sympathetic newspaper editor Donald Woods (later to become Steve Biko’s biographer).
Jock of the Bushveld 1992

is a true story by South African author Sir Percy Fitzpatrick. The book tells of Fitzpatrick’s travels with his dog, Jock, during the 1880s, when he worked as a storeman, prospector’s assistant, journalist and ox-wagon transport-rider in the Bushveld region of the Transvaal (then the South African Republic).The book has become a south african classic
The Power of One (1992)
Starring: Morgan Freeman
A good film for younger audiences. The Book is better: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, Ballantine Books. Set in a world torn apart, where man enslaves his fellow man and freedom remains elusive, this is the moving story of one young white man growing up in South Africa during World War II, Peekay turns to two older men, one black and one white, to show him how to find the courage to fight against unjustice.
Cry, the Beloved Country (1951&1995)
The original film wth Sidney Poitier in 1951
In 1995 the re make
Starring: James Earl Jones
This moving adaptation of Alan Paton’s celebrated novel stars James Earl Jones as a beloved, rural minister in South Africa who makes his first trip to Johannesburg in search of his son. Directed by the same director of Sarafina!
A Dry White Season (1989)
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Janet Suzman, Zakes Mokae, Marlon Brando Director: Euzhan Palcy
“A Dry White Season” is set in the 1970s, at the time when the schoolchildren of Soweto, an African township outside Johannesburg, held a series of protests which culminated in the June 16, 1976 Soweto Uprising and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of children. They wanted to be educated in English, not Afrikaans (a language spoken only in South Africa and mostly by whites).
A World Apart (1988)
Starring: Barbara Hershey and Jodhi May, Director: Chris Menges, Screenplay writer: Shawn Slovo
A true story of South African Commuist Party Leaders, Joe Slovo and his wife Ruth First, as told through the eyes of their daughter Shawn. It is an excellent film.
Mapantsula which means “hustler” (1988)
Mapantsula was the first anti-apartheid feature film by, for and about black South Africans. Filmed inside Soweto, scored to the urban beat of “Township Jive,” Mapantsula has been called a South African The Harder They Come. Mapantsula tells the story of Panic, a petty gangster who becomes caught up in the growing anti-apartheid struggle and has to choose between individual gain and a united stand against the system. Mapantsula will give viewers an insider’s tour of township life and a foretaste of the vibrant popular cinema promised by the new, democratic South Africa. Available: California Newsreel 149 Ninth Street, San Francisco CA 94103 Phone (415) 621-6196, Fax (415) 621-6522, Web:
A Walk in the Night (1998)
A Walk in the Night is one of the first films from a new generation of talented young black South African filmmakers who have become active since the overthrow of apartheid in 1994. Mickey Madoda Dube’s debut feature adapts Alex La Guma’s celebrated 1962 novella of the same name into a fast-paced crime thriller set in present day Johannesburg. The fact that this story could be so convincingly updated to the present indicates how little racial power dynamics in South Africa have changed ñ even after liberation! Available at California Newsreel.
City Lovers/Country Lovers: The Gordimer Stories (1982)
by Nadine Gordimer, Profile Productions, South Africa.
In City Lovers a middle-aged white geologist is enamored by the charms of a “colored” cashier girl. Soon their casual relationship is a tender love affair. In Country Lovers, Paulus, the son of a wealthy white farmer, and Thebedi, the daughter of a black farmhand, have been friends since childhood. As they grow older, they become increasingly intimate until eventually they are lovers … secret lovers. In both films the lovers must suffer the consequences of their intimacy since the South African Immorality Act forbids social relationships between couples of mixed race. Shot on location in South Africa. Available: Videography for the African Continent, University of Wisconsin.
Sarafina! 1992
Starring: Woopie Goldburg
A musical about the school children of Soweto who fueled the June 1976 Uprising and their resilient spirit in the face of death and repression.

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(2) Comments

  1. Brian Astbury

    Interesting blog. Some additions:
    Road to Mecca was made and released in 1991. Yvonne Bryceland – who died in January 1992 – won five Best Actress awards for her role as Miss Helen – The Laurence Olivier Award in London; the Obie award in New York (shared with Amy Irving, then Steven Spielberg’s wife, who played Elsa opposite her), also from a Drama Magazine in New York (can’t remember which); and two Vita awards for both the stage version in Johannesburg and the film.


    I don’t know if you can help me with these few questions. I want to know when was the first film feature made in SA and the first black made film in SA?
    Please respond as soon as you get the infomation


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