Drawing references from Richard Wright's portrait of black rage in "Native Son" and Shakespeare's "Hamlet", this crime thriller set in Johannesburg recounts one night when a young Coloured man is driven to an act of brutality by a racist society. It 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. The fact that this program was produced and broadcast by the government owned South African Broadcasting Corporation shows how much they have.
Alex La Guma (1925-1986), the son of a leading early anti-apartheid activist, was himself imprisoned twice for his political activities - in 1956 as part of the Treason Trials and in 1962 for progressive journalism. He wrote A Walk in the Night while banned (under house arrest) and it was originally published outside the country in Nigeria. In 1967 he fled South Africa for Britain, dying in exile in 1986 while the ANC's representative in Cuba. The filmmaker, Mickey Madoda Dube, was born in Soweto in 1960 and studied drama at the University of Witswatersrand and film on a Fulbright at the University of Southern California. Since returning to South Africa, he has collaborated in a series of short story adaptations as well as produced eight dramas and a five part series on the Truth and Justice Commission for the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
Dube's film adaptation shifts the emphasis of La Guma's story in several significant ways. For example, by moving the location from Capetown's vibrant District 6 in the 1950s to a drab, working class Johannesburg neighborhood today, the original story's Coloured flavor has become more generic, non-white South Africans. In fact, the milieu of police brutality, frustrated young men and omnipresent crime which Dube so powerfully evokes, will be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with our own inner cities. Dube's script also tightens the personal ties between the major characters, condensing the drama and heightening the ultimate sense of tragedy. In so doing, he is perhaps suggesting that the fate of all South Africans has become more closely intertwined than ever before.
Dube frames his film with references to the ghost-walking scene in Act 1 of Shakespeare's Hamlet. In La Guma's original, the bard is quoted only once, although, significantly, the novella takes its title from this passage: "I am thy father's spirit doomed for a certain term to walk the night." The central character, Mikey, is clearly intended to have parallels with Hamlet. His patrimony has also been unjustly usurped, in this case, by South Africa's white supremacist regime. Mikey's "Uncle" Doughty, like Hamlet's uncle Claudius, has had an affair with his mother and Mikey ends up killing him, though this brings not resolution but further tragedy. The sordid nightscape of Johannesburg and the flashing sparks of the steel mill where Mikey worked evoke the Hell from which the ghost seeks release through his son's revenge.
"Successfully conveys the inescapable atmosphere inherent in the stratified South African society which makes the climax almost inevitable. A must see film." - Aboubakar Sanogo, National Museum of African Art "Mickey Dube's film freely adapts the sprit of Alex La Guma's classic text and makes it refreshingly relevant to a post-apartheid South Africa. A remarkable achievement from a young filmmakers with great potential." - Mbye Cham, Howard University "Faithfully conveys the poetics, historical vision, critical realism and politics of resistance so central to Alex La Cuma's literary undertakings. La Guma was deeply influenced by Native Son and the film makes a wonderful allusion to the complex influence of black modernities across the Black Atlantic." - Ntongela Masilela, Pitzer College
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