Exploring the South African gangster film genre prior and post liberation : a study of Mapantsula, Hijack Stories and Jerusalema.
This dissertation is a study of the gangster film genre and how it has been used to represent the sociopolitical and economic conditions of South Africa over an extended period of time. Firstly, by looking at the early history of the influence of the gangster genre on South African audiences, specifically the Sophiatown generation, a history of the genre being strongly linked to sociopolitical conditions in South Africa is established. The project then focuses on South African-made gangster films, beginning with Mapantsula (1988) and how it speaks to the tumultuous times of the 1980s prior to liberation. It then proceeds to examine Hijack Stories (2000) as a gangster film that represents South African society post-liberation. Lastly, it examines Jerusalema (2008) as a recent example of the gangster film and its representation of current issues, problems and tensions within South African society. The project delves into the messages that the gangster genre in particular holds as a genre that is intimately linked to social, economic and political conditions. The use of the genre as a tool to represent the experiences of South Africans prior to and post liberation is of particular interest to this research. Introduction: Genre and the Gangster Film This chapter attempts briefly to define genre in film studies, discuss how genres operate and explore the importance of genre. It also offers an elaboration of the history of the gangster film as well as discussion of the ideas of its three most significant theorists. Chapter 1: The Hollywood gangster figure in Sophiatown This chapter examines the influence of the Hollywood gangster figure on the audiences of Sophiatown. It explores the emulation of the style, mannerisms and behavior of the cinematic gangster by the residents of Sophiatown as a way of adopting a resistant urban identity in opposition to the dominant ideology of the time. However, it is found that this resistance fails to effectively become political in the form of an anti-government resistance. Chapter 1: The Hollywood gangster figure in Sophiatown This chapter examines the influence of the Hollywood gangster figure on the audiences of Sophiatown. It explores the emulation of the style, mannerisms and behavior of the cinematic gangster by the residents of Sophiatown as a way of adopting a resistant urban identity in opposition to the dominant ideology of the time. However, it is found that this resistance fails to effectively become political in the form of an anti-government resistance. Chapter 2: Mapantsula as Pre-liberation South African Gangster Film This chapter explores the relationship between the ‘pantsula’ subculture and the cinematic gangster and thereafter makes a case for how Mapantsula can be read as a gangster film. Furthermore, it goes on to study how Mapantsula works within the gangster genre framework looking at the politicization of Panic with a focus on pre-liberation South Africa. Chapter 3: Hijack Stories as Post-liberation South African Gangster Film This chapter examines Hijack Stories as a South African example of the gangster film by firstly situating it within the genre and then examining how it functions as a post-liberation South African gangster film around the period of its release. The gangster figure here is linked to ideas of authenticity and black experience. Chapter 4: Jerusalema as recent Post-liberation South African Gangster Film This chapter examines how Jerusalema uses the conventions of the gangster genre to explore current South African issues in particular, the tension between the ideology of capitalist entrepeneurship and that of restitution and social justice. It goes on to then study how it works as a post-liberation recent gangster film exploration of modern day South African society. Conclusion This chapter briefly examines how the gangster film genre has survived in South Africa over a long and shifting period of time and how it has spoken to different periods in South Africa’s history through the films discussed in this research. The gangster figure starts as a resistant figure in Mapantsula who slowly moves away from material pursuits and becomes politicized. Thereafter in Hijack Stories, the gangster figure is used to explore issues of black identity in the post-liberation period and to explore the growing divide between the recently advantaged and the still disadvantaged black South African. Finally, Jerusalema uses the gangster genre to stage the contradictions of the “South African Dream” and the lack of a firm direction for South Africa as the ideologies of capitalism and social justice clash while the period after the fall of an order leaves much in question as a nation finds its identity.