chapter  4
23 Pages

Black audiences 1920s–1950s: film culture and modernity

Cinema in South Africa was variously grasped as a tool for addressing black audiences by white entrepreneurs, producers and missionaries, as well as by black intellectuals in the 1920s to 1950s period. While cinemas were well established from the early 1900s in urban areas for the exclusive use of white audiences, blacks were sometimes allowed to sit in the gallery or at the back of the cinema. By 1936, there were only four theatres licensed to screen films for black audiences (Phillips, quoted in Peterson 2003: 39). A few cinemas were established in black townships probably from the 1940s when Kings was built in Alexandra, as well as others (Gutsche 1972: 379). From the 1920s productions that incorporated and centralized black subjects focused on advertising with moral messages and health issues. Ethnographic documentaries aimed at increasing tourism were also produced. The first known engagement of black people as collaborators in producing and writing films is in the cluster of films made for black audiences in the late 1940s and 1950s. In the first of these, Jim comes to Joburg (1949), Dan Twala assisted the producers with casting. He also plays the nightwatchman in the film. Lionel Ngakane assisted Zoltan Korda with casting Cry, the Beloved Country (1951) and also plays Absolom in the film. Drum writers, Bloke Modisane and Lewis Nkosi, are credited as writing Come Back, Africa (1959) with the director, Lionel Rogosin. They also appear in the film as themselves with another Drum writer, Can Themba.