By Rachael Kelley
BU News Service
“Zulu Wedding” is a landmark film for its country of origin, South Africa, and crosses oceans and borders to deliver original comedy and romance with a captivating cast. The film has been selected to screen Sunday, as the closer for the Pan African Film and Art Festival in Los Angeles, the largest Black film festival in the nation.
South Africa has often been portrayed as the crime and rape capital of the world, riddled with poverty and starvation, where mud-huts are more prevalent than houses. These are barriers writer and director of “Zulu Wedding,” Lineo Sekeleoane hopes to rectify in her debut film by showing audiences a “successful and empowered” nation. The portrayal of wealth through private jets, Maseratis and mansions are no longer images associated solely with “Wakanda.”
“I think it is important for the world to see Africans who are successful, empowered and, most importantly, rooted in their culture,” Sekeleone said in an interview with BU News Service. “It was important for me to show a different side of our continent and people and explore our complexities in a story that celebrates heritage and, above all, family.”
“Zulu Wedding” follows a young woman, Lugile Sabata, played by “True Blood” actress, Nondumiso Tembe, through her struggle to maintain her identity — especially when a family and an unbreakable past promise to a Zulu king clash with her goals.
The film, shot in New York, Botswana and Johannesburg, is one where the American and South African cultures collide, using a diverse cast as a conduit to show cultures that are worlds apart.
It stars South African favorite Pallance Dladla and American actor Carl Anthony Payne, best known for his role as Cole in the American Fox sit-com, “Martin.” Refilwe Maitisa, an NYU drama student, plays Lou’s younger self.
“Zulu Wedding” has been nominated for best First Feature Narrative at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles (an Academy Award qualifying festival), and has gained additional nominations from the South Africa Film and TV Awards.
South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthemthwa, called for celebration of the film on Twitter.
“Join us in celebrating one of our own home brewed films, ‘The Zulu Wedding’ as it will be closing the Pan African Film Festival this coming Sunday in Los Angeles,” she wrote. “An achievement such as this one, makes our nation proud. Keep raising our flag high.”
The U.S. has seen a surge of internationally-set films, from “Crazy Rich Asians,” which followed the wealthy elite in Singapore, to South Korean four-time Oscar winner, “Parasite.” Sekeleona hopes the appetite for foreign films is still growing.
“What Parasite did was amazing, and I am hoping that will open up doors for foreign films to get theatrical distribution,” she said.
Sekeleona believes the vast majority of streaming network services have allowed for a place for more diverse content, and her ultimate goal is that networks start paying more attention to content creators in Africa.
“Africa is a good place to start getting that content and a good market for streaming networks to grow their market/audience,” she said.
The Pan African Film Festival derives from the concept of what it means to be a Pan-Africanist: to unify the continent of Africa by bringing together people of the diaspora, with the purpose of finding strength in numbers for economic, political and social harmony.
The spirit of Ubuntu, a Zulu term which translates to “because you are, I am,” is the pulse of South African culture. The country, encapsulating all its people, represents power in unity.
“Zulu Wedding” is more than a love story but an education, teaching people of the richness and vibrancy that is the soul of South African and what it means to be proudly South African. The comedy radiates the undying, everlasting and powerful personality of South Africa to the audience.
“South African people have such a great sense of humor,” Sekeleona said. “We were making memes before they got a name and we know how to poke fun of ourselves. Telling our own stories and sharing our perspective has always been important to us, and this film introduces a contemporary South Africa: A South Africa that embraces its past but is still comfortable to exist in a modern complex world that celebrates diversity and change.”
She wants South Africans to watch the film and be reminded of the struggles they have faced as a people. This is a love letter to her country and “every hopeless romantic that dares to believe that love conquers all.”
“Zulu Wedding” will be screening Feb 23., at the Pan African Film and Arts Festival.