Come Back Africa: The Films of Lionel Rogosin, Volume II 2014
Distributed by Milestone Films & Video, PO Box 128, Harrington Park, NJ 07640-0128; 800-603-1104
Produced by Lionel Rogosin
Directed by Lionel Rogosin
DVD , color, 88 min.
Sr. High - General Adult
Apartheid, Africa, Racism
Date Entered: 06/20/2014Reviewed by Timothy W. Kneeland, History and Political Science Department, Nazareth College of Rochester, Rochester, NY
Come Back Africa is reminiscent of the American classic The Jungle and tells the story of Zachariah, a native of South Africa who is forced by poverty to seek employment in Johannesburg. Zachariah has trouble fitting in and moves from job to job in a struggle to support his family. Like the protagonist in The Jungle, Zachariah will face hardship and tragedy and confront various philosophies of resistance and acceptance of his fate. The story, set against the backdrop of Apartheid and racial oppression, remains as compelling today as when it was first made in 1959.
The film opens with Zachariah arriving by train from the provinces to work in a gold mine. The film shows scenes of the harsh conditions of the mines before Zachariah decides to move to the metropolitan area to serve as a domestic, then janitor in a garage, and finally kitchen staff in a hotel. He is fired from one job after another while being berated and scorned. His movements are under constant scrutiny by the white community who require him to show his permit to work and to live in the metropolitan area. The movie uses Zachariah’s experiences to display the racial oppression of South Africa not only through the life of Zachariah but through his encounters with other indigenous peoples who have been relocated to the capital area.
It is not only Zachariah who is affected by the oppression. The film turns tragic when Zachariah brings his family to live in Soweto. The social disruption of living in the township erodes Zachariah’s traditional authority as head of the household. His son is drawn away from family into the rough and tumble life of the impoverished area they call home. His wife implores him to let her work as a live-in domestic elsewhere. She wants her children to have the benefits of an urban education and dreams of her son becoming a doctor or professional. Her dreams are no match for the harsh reality of Soweto. When Zachariah is arrested and detained for failing to have the proper documents to live in the city, his wife is attacked and killed in a senseless act of violence. The final scene of the movie is of an anguished Zachariah reflecting back on his experiences in Johannesburg.
The story is contextualized against the backdrop of the modern wealthy white areas of Johannesburg and the impoverished townships where black Africans are forced to live in squalor and without modern appliances. The film uses extended street scenes to show the indigenous people struggling to maintain their dignity and culture against the forces of modernity and westernization. These scenes contain ideas that are relevant in contemporary discussions of the transformations engendered by globalization.
The scenes are uneven, as they were filmed documentary style and use ordinary individuals who are not professional actors. The film itself has been well restored by Cineteca Bologna and is clear and easy to watch. The DVD is full of extra features themselves worthy of review.