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Is Tsotsi (2005) a South African film? Implications of a transnational film theory for stylistic analysis in South African film studies.

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The aim of this dissertation is to explore the question: “Is Tsotsi (2005) so Hollywoodised as to be unrecognisably South African?” It is a question that relates to the style of Tsotsi from a perspective of a national paradigm. Using Appadurai’s (1990) global flow theory that shows the flow of money, people, technology, media and ideology across and through borders, this dissertation begins to question the limitations imposed by a national framework. In the first chapter, the history of South African cinema shows that film emerged in a relationship with audiences as a transnational medium from its inception. Themes that emerge are those of hybridisation, indigenisation and a porous Hollywood/World cinema binary. The audience can be seen as active, and as supported by Hall’s (1973) theory of reception, they contest, negotiate or accept dominant encodings. Various readings of Tsotsi are investigated highlighting the contestation that emerges from critical discourses involving race and Third cinema. These discourses themselves are subject to global flows as is Hollywood cinema that shows hybridisation and heterogeneity through the impact of various flows. A textual analysis of Tsotsi using the transnational methodology of directing craft, reveals that the film uses a sophisticated and heterogeneous style that is indigenised in many ways through the mise-en-scène, sound and lighting. Other cinematic codes, such as narrative structure and editing, show conventional approaches that are at times challenged by the breaking of rules. In conclusion, the dissertation finds that films allow for audiences to emotionally engage and transform themselves through “a series of elements (such as character, plots and textual forms) out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives, their own as well as those of others living in other places” (Appadurai, 1990:299). This provides the final challenge as to whether Tsotsi is a South African film and the final answer can only be that it resides with the audiences of transnational cinema.


Master of Arts in Media, Visual Arts and Drama. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2018.


Theses - Media, Visual Arts and Drama.