Netflix has reported that western audiences love South African content. These audiences are three times more likely to travel here, after watching a local show or movie. The Made in South Africa collection on the streaming service features local content across genres. One of those is the film, Angeliena which we watched in disbelief.
Angeliena (Euodia Samson) is a parking attendant at a local hospital in Cape Town. Her character dreams of travelling the world. She adorns her home and work space with travel postcards and other imagery. The magic realism is clear with her daydreaming and the use of colour throughout the film.
A parallel story is the head of the hospital, Dr Mitchell (Colin Moss) as the villain who wants to get automated parking. The next 60 or so odd minutes then become a downhill ride of caricatures, plot holes and over the top kak. I still can’t believe it was written, let alone approved.
Angeliena gets diagnosed with a degenerative disease. Her best friend, Captain (Tshamano Sebe) dies and leaves her a message to pursue her dreams of travel. She then books her round the world trip ticket. The first bad trope is Angeliena approaching a Rastafari man in her community for a fake passport. This was so unnecessary. We get that she has struggled her whole life but it is in those finer details where stereotypes get perpetuated. What’s worse is that Angeliena had the money for a passport through legal channels.
The dialogue is clear and accurately used. But the accent and the exaggerated pronunciations from Angeliena are too much. As coloured people, we have distinct accents, but nothing so forced. The next few scenes get even worse. It is like the director googled “coloured people in cape town” and then used the top five results.
There is literally a scene with Cape Minstrels at a party for Angeliena. We all know the minstrels are highly organised and most likely to participate in competition rather than just turn up at a party. There is a scene with the Nurul Islam mosque to add some colour I suppose. There could have just been a Muslim Coloured character. But the director probably thought without conspicuous turrets of a masjid, it wouldn’t look authentic enough. Samson is supported though by capable and talented performers like June van Merch and Nicole Madell.
The danger of caricatures
The movie is a dramedy. Maybe the point was to keep it light-hearted. But not at the expense of a community that the writer-director knows nothing about. The tropes are so glaring. Angeliena is happy-go-lucky and living life no matter how down on her luck she is. This is the “jolly H*tnot” caricature, or the “nar” (clown in afrikaans) narrative. This was problematised in Zimitri Erasmus and Edgar Pieterse’s Discourses on Coloured Identities.
This laziness is indicative in Angeliena’s character. It seems easier to portray the default stereotype, than to interrogate the community and its nuances. Any Coloured person would tell you that humour has always been a coping mechanism. It has always been a way to handle trauma that is still here for us. We put on voices and faces to navigate the world better. We have been subject to these portrayals because no one does better.
There was such a great opportunity to introduce KhoiKhoi mysticism and culture. There were also missed opportunities to introduce iconic symbols like the Rieldansers of Namakwaland. A cultural practice deeply rooted in indigenous and ancient practice. Yet all we get is a google search collage of coloured culture.
There is also an unnecessary long scene of a shack demolition. This is trauma porn. It was macabre. Demolitions of informal housing is a common occurrence in South Africa.
Colin Moss expertly plays the villain. His character is written well and consistent. He has a few scenes with Thapelo Mokoena that helps the plot move along. Please watch this movie. Let us all support local films. But let’s not keep quiet when it is a piece of kak. Samson’s talents are wasted here. This movie is the perfect example of how NOT to write about communities you know nothing about.