New York - South African actress Pearl Thusi and director Akin Omotoso this week stepped out onto the red carpet on the opening night of the 24th African Film Festival in New York and the American premiere of Omotoso’s South African drama, Vaya.
The stars form part of a hefty contingent representing South Africa at the festival. Other South African productions include the documentary Uprize! that tells the story of the Soweto Uprising in 1976, as well as the Afrikaans story of the lawless street life in Cape Town in Noem My Skollie (Call Me Thief) from director Daryne Joshua.
After a starring role in the action-packed FBI thriller series Quantico, Thusi has become a familiar face on American TV screens, but warded off media attention shortly before Vaya’s screening, saying "I'm just an actress from South Africa, here to support the movie (Vaya). Don't worry about me!" But the cameras stayed on her as reporters waited to have a moment with the starlet, who has a role in the moving portrait of anti-apartheid activist Solomon Mahlangu, Kalushi, that will also be screened as part of the festival.
Thusi’s role as an FBI recruit and lawyer, Dayana Mampasi, alongside actress Priyanka Chopra in the second season of Quantico, earned her acting kudos, but the show is yet to be picked up for a third season and TV critics are hedging their bets, saying it could go either way. She’s waiting to hear what happens with the show, Thusi said, and will soon return to South Africa until she either takes up the role of Dayana again or gets another gig. "I'm very happy to go home, though!" the actress said.
The festival presents a proud moment for Thusi, who says the African film industry is not taken as seriously as it should be. “The idea of Africans coming together and showcasing what they have available to them and celebrating each other…I'm really proud. That the world has allowed us a stage on foreign soil is very special. We can contribute to the world in a bigger way than we think,” she said. “It shows that our industry is growing and for me I'm very passionate about it.”
Mahen Bonetti, founder of the festival, says the festival and the abounding opportunities it creates, is “where the drum starts beating” for African films. The theme this year, "People's Resistance,” resonate with a current political moment of resistance in many countries across the world, but according to Bonetti this was not by design.
"It's why I am so proud of it. After we put it together we were like, 'bloody hell!' but it works. I want to believe we are on the right side of history. It's at these moments when there is a lot of turmoil that a new era begins. In our own small way, we are contributing to that.”
One of the older films that is showing at the festival is the documentary Malcolm X: Struggle for Freedom (1967) by Lebert Bethune. Bethune, a friend of the iconic civil rights leader, remembered Malcolm X as a “very, very funny guy. He always chuckled before answering a difficult question. So, if you said to him, "Brother Malcolm, how many people do you have in your organization?" and after chuckling he'd say, "You know, if you dig up the roots of the tree, you'll damage it, so I will not be telling you anything about how many people there are in my organisation."
The prolific 1988 South African film, Mapantsula, known as the first film made by and about black South Africans, will also screen during the festival.