Racism Representation in Films





Racism Representation in Films

            Representation could be said to refer to construction in films of aspects of reality of people’s lives such as their cultural identity, places, objects events, including other concepts that portray reality. In films, this is achieved by use of dialogues or speeches in a film, and the pictures shown as well as the motion pictures, which show events that, reflect the real lives of people. It not only refers to how they are represented, but also the process involved in such productions, where the main objective of representation is how the film or the motion pictures have been made to look real to the audience. In the film Sarafina, colonialism, racism and third world are well represented and how this is achieved by the production remains hard to comprehend for many, since the film represent a historic time between 1970 and 80s where students struggled against apartheid.

“By colonialism, we refer to the process by which the European powers (including the united states) reached a position of economic, military, political and cultural domination in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America,” (Stam and Spence 753). This is evident in Africa, where almost all the countries were colonized, and today, a colonial hangover that seems to never end exists. The postcolonial error is highly affected by colonialism, culturally, economically and politically since most of the countries adopted their colonizers culture.

The film Sarafina is set in 1992 when South Africa was being ruled by the whites, and during a time when the state of emergency, apartheid, was still high, and the black race was discriminated despite being the majority. From the definition of colonialism according to Stam and Spence, it is evident that the British were dominating the economy, military and politics in South Africa at the time. In the scene where Sarafina visits her mother, who was working as a maid in a white man’s house, there is a real contrast of the house and that where Sarafina lived in. To describe a little, the house was big, spacious, and the furniture and deco was of a state of the art, while Sarafina lived in the kind of little rooms, which were shared by several people. This was a clear depiction of white domination of the economy, where the blacks lived poor lives deprived of the basic needs while the white enjoyed abundance of everything they needed. Colonialism was represented in this film through use of music that was composed by the students with words such as; Freedom is Coming Tomorrow, which meant that they were seeking freedom from the white man who dominated their country.

Domination of culture of the white man was evident, because of colonialism, where we see students in class, which was a formal way of education, which did not exist in African culture before colonization. Moreover, the way of life of the black was an imitation of the white man’s way of life evidenced by kind of clothes they wore, kind of houses around the area where the movie is set, which are not African style, but rather European. The culture of the African people was less seen in the movie, meaning that the dominant culture was the European one, including social events and places such as bars, and materials used in daily life, further affirming the definition colonialism by Stam and Spence.

Politically, at the time, South Africa was ruled by white people, and black people were under harsh rules from them, which was common with colonialism. The white used their political structures to rule the country, while they were the foreigners, and controlled the country’s political arena where they did not allow democracy to the black native of the land. All the rules had been made by the white man, and followed by everybody. In the film, there is domination of white military men, who are depicted as ruthless as shown during the time they get into the school, shoot students without any reason to do so except for demonstrating. The students were never armed, and in the streets when they are demonstrating, the police harass them physically. There are many deaths of black people from gunshots in the movie as opposed to the white men, who are in control. This is a clear affirmation of brutality from the police and racism, since only one color was affected.

According to Stam and Spence, “Racism … although not limited to colonial situation (anti-Semitism being a case in point), has historically been both an ally and product of colonization process,” (753). Stam and Spence say that it is a generalized way of conveying ideals to real life divergence of people, where the racist regards his or her values as good to those of his victim, to justify himself in treating the accuser in ill manners, especially of being aggressive on them. As sexism would make a person commit rape, so would racism lead to a person becoming violent against the group that he or she hates or despises.

In the Sarafina film, apartheid meant separation of whites and blacks, where blacks were subjected to the deplorable side of life, and the white enjoyed the better side of life. There were clear separated places for whites and for blacks, even on bridges, where one side was set aside for each group. The whites enjoyed better services compared to the blacks. The students were reacting to this harsh rule through demonstrations on the streets the protagonist, Sarafina, showed hatred for the whites while he was in their house, and left the taps running out of resentment towards the white man.

The racism was represented by events of violence against the blacks who were given little regard by the whites, and regularly shot at, arrested, killed and tortured by the whites. One good event that portrayed racism is during the mob justice, where the cop who supported white race was killed. Another violence that was quite inhumane was the torture that the main character went through when she was arrested for demanding equal rights as white, and in another scene, the teacher, Ms Goldberg, who was inspirational to the students since she taught them details that their text books did not cover, was taken to prison for this reason. When the police attacked, the students and shooting them served as another violent act that illustrated the cruelty of the white rules. Violent scenes are all over the film, and it serves to emphasize on how hard it was to go against the rules laid by the white political laws.

In this film, the black’s image is portrayed as that of people who are suffering and poor, though there were many enlightened blacks while the whites are depicted as affluent and enlightened and superior to blacks, as they live in better conditions in good suburbs. On the other hand, the blacks live in shanties of Soweto, which is characterized by poor houses and dust. This is a clear depiction of racism representation in the film. However, in the production, the racism has been minimized, since everything is set in Soweto and the main characters are from South Africa, and the music is South African including the dance.

Stam and Spence, define third world as, “Third world refers to the historic victims of this process to the colonized, neocolonized or decolonized nations of the world whose economic and political structures have been shaped and deformed within the colonial process,” (753). According to them, third world movies should not be expected to compare to those of western culture, but instead the audience should expect them to have a meaning related to real life. The Sarafina movie was one of the first to be set in South Africa, based on a real historic event where students demonstrated against apartheid. Moreover, what makes it so real is the fact that it was set in Soweto, and except for Whoopy Goldberg, and the white soldiers, the rest were real students and the school as shown in the film was just as real. The destroyed libraries, dusty terrains in the vicinity, and spray painting on the walls show the real picture of the place at the time. This served to show the conditions that the students went through in their lives, and the physical appearance of the place.

The film point of view is how the students regarded the white domination in their country, portraying them as brutal and ruthless, where they show the torture gone through by the blacks from white to get information. As most people are used to seeing films made by westerns countries, with their point of view, where the films show a justification for their actions in the movies, the movie Sarafina shows real events from their own view. The film, due to its realistic nature triggers emotions as the audience sympathize with the students, which at the end of it, the audience would be sympathetic to the whole country, since the film represents the struggle they went through to get freedom. Despite how they go about doing it, especially during the mob killing that was so horrible, yet the audience sympathized and wanted them to catch him since he had contributed to all the straggles they went through. Considering they were representing the country, the cop was a traitor, who did not only betray the people around him, but also the whole nation that was so much oppressed. The camera focuses on the students during their demonstrations, and especially on the protagonist, showing the determination in her face to win the battle of apartheid, which further creates her heroic courage to dare the white man rules. Moreover, considering they intend to stop apartheid, audiences are curious about how it is going to happen, and due to the struggle they go through, we all want to see them achieve fulfill their mission.

At the end, one is well acquainted with the kind of harsh conditions prevailing in the nation through the film, which was musical, with songs such as freedom is coming tomorrow which was popular at the time , and served to show the hopes in people of a better tomorrow. The song that was sung by the students when they were in the police van after they were arrested was so emotional and triggered high levels of sympathy and made audience feel like shedding tears. It also played a role of showing the rich culture of Africa in music through the dances, which were well choreographed, and showed the enthusiasm the teenagers had to life. The mission of the students were to inform the world of the situation, which it achieved, and the whole world was aware of apartheid. The music played a crucial role in establishing the point of view of the film and the cultural position to the audience, as well as regulating the amount of sympathy and emotions from the different songs (Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths Gareth, and Tiffin Helen 45)

The film uses a speaking character, where the most close ups are focused on Sarafina, she is one who acts and the audience can relate to her more than the other characters, most of the time others are listening to her, making her the main character. In addition, others act upon her ideas or thoughts since she influences them to resist the apartheid. This helps the audience identify who the main character is as well as who is oppressed and who oppresses.

The film Sarafina is a representation of resistance that was made by the students during the apartheid era, and though it serves as to be at contrast with itself, where the film is trying to show high spirits of the characters who are in miserly, through singing even when arrested. The film turns to be violent when the teacher is arrested, burning of the cop, the punishment that follow the students from the policemen, and the riots that follow and at a moment, this made the film’s musical theme a bit dull until to the last stages where it closes with a dance. The cultural awareness in the film has been created by the sets of social relationships that include races, black and white, class and gender, where women are listened (Fitzpatrick, Kevin and Meade39). Music serves to fulfill this objective since it showed the culture of the people (Braudy; Leo and Cohen, Marshall 67)


Works Cited

Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths Gareth, and  Tiffin Helen. The post-colonial studies reader. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Stam, Robert. and Spence, Louise. Colonialism, Racism, and representation: An Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1977. Print.

Braudy; Leo and Cohen, Marshall. Film theory and criticism: introductory readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.

Fitzpatrick, Kevin and Meade, Marion. A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York. Berkeley, CA: Roaring Forties Press, 2005. Print.

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