South African short film, Five Tiger lifts veil on culture and tradition

Five Tiger is short fim about a sex worker who is trying to suppoer her family. It played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The movie was written and directed by Nomawonga Khumalo. 

It was inspired by a conversation Nomawonga had with a Johannesburg sex worker. The sex worker recounted a story to Khumalo about praying for blessing on her and her work. She – the sex worker – said she would be looked upon with favour one day because she kept her faith and paid her tithes. Her parting words to Khumalo were ‘God loves us all’. The filmmaker said this angered her. It forced her to look at how structures like the church support but also hold people back.  

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Five Tiger  is a ten-minute short film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. We are introduced to a woman working as a sex worker. It is later revealed that her client is a church leader. Her husband is ill, and she is under financial pressure to provide for her family. Her daughter tells her she spent the money from her transaction the day before, at a school market day. 

In an interview with The Daily Vox, Khumalo said the film was influenced by the state of culture, religion, and the plight of women. 

“The (recent) hearings at the CRL were quite revelatory in terms of our attitudes toward women who engage in religious practices that are exploited by them”, Khumalo said.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), heard allegations of rape levelled against church leader Bishop Stephen Zondo. 

Khumalo explained that Five Tiger was an opportunity to tell the same story with a different perspective. 

“With the economic positions these women find themselves in, they look towards something faith-orientated. But it’s the same religious and cultural institutions that keep them oppressed. They don’t allow them to find help,” said Khumalo. 

The cinematography is impeccable. The viewer can taste the dry air through the screen.The stellar cast includes Ayanda Seoka, Fumani Shilubani, Khalalelo Makhanda and Menzi Biyela. It is subtle, visually appealing and the actors wear their characters’ struggles on their faces. The protagonist’s husband is a metaphor for the judgement carried against sex work.  

Although nothing changes for the main character, the film is an attempt for the audience to change their viewpoints and perspectives. Five Tiger forces you to question the structures that govern us, and how women are always at the receiving end of it. 

The film intersects with South African society, feminism and rape culture. Khumalo expertly tells an impactful story with sensitivity and care. 

Khumalo is currently working on her eagerly anticipated full-length feature; The Bursary. This is a film that looks at the practice of virginity testing and maiden bursaries in South Africa. The recent unrest in Kwazulu-Natal, and the impact of Covid-19 has delayed filming. Khumalo said state bodies like the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) are making a tremendous impact on filmmaking in SA.

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“They are supportive and are putting women filmmakers at the forefront,” Khumalo said.  

Five Tiger is available to watch on Showmax. 

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Featured image(s) provided by Showmax