The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.


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Director/Directrice, Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema | Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma


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01 June 2022

South African Women in Cinema, Visual Media and Screen Culture

South African Women in Cinema,
Visual Media and Screen Culture
Report by Beti Ellerson

Notes continuing...


There are multiple racial, ethnic, religious, and historical signifiers of South African identity and this identification is reflected in the creative expression of the artists. Hence, the inquiry to know: Who are these women makers, cultural producers and workers? How do they negotiate these identities within the often contested terrain that continues to manifest itself decades since the emergence of a democratic and so-called rainbow nation?

The African Women in Cinema Project emerged in 1996, two years after the official end of apartheid, hence my initial focus was on the black women of South Africa and their experiences during this historic moment. Since the creation of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema and the African Women in Cinema Blog in 2009 the endeavor has extended, to present the myriad multi-ethnic experiences of South African women, from African, Indian, Malaysian, European origins. Moreover, Audrey T McCluskey's book of interviews, The Devil you Dance with : Film Culture in the New South Africa, released in 2009 attests to the multiple identities of the country.

Masepeke Sekhukhuni, who was a director the Newtown Film and Television School in Johannesburg, noted the importance for black students to understand the implications of cinema/filmmaking practice in terms of identity. As filmmakers they would be shaping a new way of seeing and interpreting cinema and visual media.

Miriam Patsanza set up the video production company Talent Consortium in Zimbabwe in 1984. The company, which is also a school, moved in Johannesburg in the 1990s to take a more active part in "redefining the media" in South Africa: "Whilst there are specific gender related obstacles for the majority of us in Southern Africa, the problems endured by most women in TV and film are the same as those experienced by males who have also been excluded because of their race. The strategy for change, therefore, is to address the issues of media ownership and cultural representation as a joint force whilst at the same time insisting on bringing about respect and acknowledgment of other sexes, different languages, and the culture and style of indigenous peoples".* 

Legendary screen and stage actor, producer, playwright Thembi Mtshali who played the role of Pat in Mapantsula (directed by Oliver Schmitz and written by Schmitz and Thomas Mogotlane, recalls in a interview with me in 1997 the impact of this social political film produced and released in 1988 during the apartheid era: "That was the first political movie made in South Africa, in the late eighties, during the state of emergency in our country. A lot was happening around us. I remember that the casting was very closed. During the interview, they wanted to understand what your political views were and, of course, they really had to be careful.  Everything was underground. It was done clandestinely.  Finally, we started filming. Most of the shots were done in Soweto, in this woman's house.  Most of the whites who were working with the film were liberals.  The whole thing was done right under the nose of the system, without them knowing it. Before they knew it, the film was outside the country. It was introduced at the Cannes Festival." She was conferred an honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Visual and Performing Arts from Durban University of Technology in May 2022.

Black visual activist Zanele Muholi focuses her lens—both still and moving image—on the experiences of black lesbians.

Embracing the technologies of the new millennium Jabu Nadia Newman’s web series “The Foxy Five” is an intersectional feminist exploration of the lives of its five black protagonists as they confront the myriad issues around gender, sexuality and race. At the same time, she describes the web series format as having the potential of radical feminist expression.

Zulfah Otto-Sallies (1961-2016) explored the lives and histories of the Cape Malay community in the Bo-Kaap society of Cape Town, especially as it relates to intergenerational relationships and attitudes towards tradition versus modernity and the diverse experiences of Cape Muslim society.

Maganthrie Pillay, of Indian descent, directed the pioneering feature film 34 South.

Filmmaker-scholar Jyoti Mistry, also of Indian descent, is a scholar and filmmaker.

The desire to network and empower women in the film and television sectors of South Africa is particularly evident from the grassroots, individual initiatives to the insertion of policies on the governmental level. Following is a selection of initiatives.

Women of the Sun founded in 2005, though no longer active, described its role as "an instrumental organisation promoting women in the film and television industry…provid[ing] vital services to women in the sector." Through its first ever African women film festival in 2010, its aim was to put "African women filmmakers on the map." The Women of the Sun Film Festival ran alongside the African Women Filmmakers' Forum hosted by the Goethe Institute; most of the women who attended the forum also screened works at the festival. Twenty-five women from more than fifteen countries, representing most regions of the continent and the diaspora, convened to discuss as a group the various issues that they had vowed to keep alive since their last respective meetings. The purpose of the event, according to the organizers, was to contribute to existing structures and build upon long-term strategies, thus working alongside African women filmmakers who are already leading the way. The publication Gaze Regimes: Film and Feminisms in Africa. Eds. Antje Schuhmann, Jyoti Mistry. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand, 2015, was one outcome of the African Women Filmmakers' Forum.

Mzansi Women's Film Festival, created in 2014 "celebrates women filmmakers of South Africa, Africa and the World thus to encourage spirit of engagement, collaboration, co-create for a better and screen films about women and by women filmmakers." It's objective is to provide "a platform to empower women filmmakers by showcasing films by women and about women".

Sisters Working in Film and Television (SWIFT) South Africa, currently chaired by Zanele Mtembu, was launched in 2017, as a network of South African women whose focus is the empowerment and advancement of women in the visual media. The next year it partnered with the National Film and Video Foundation on the research for the publication, Gender Matters in the South African Film Industry". The National Film and Video Foundation, an agency of the South African Department of Arts and Culture endeavors to ensure gender parity in all aspect of art and cultural production.

The Durban FilmMart Programme 2021 featured the Film Panel, Africa in Focus: Womxn in Film. The objective of the initiative: to traverse issues of gender equality and safe working spaces, how to go about changing the structures of production and the infrastructure of the industry, while navigating spaces of sexism and other antiquated notions. The panel featured Edima Otuokon of the Ladima Foundation, Zanele Mthembu, current chair of SWIFT and Antoinette Engel of Black Women Disrupt. The conversation explores the newly-created initiatives that challenge the status quo and work towards a more equitable ways of working.

Filmmaker/artist/activist Seipati Bulane-Hopa held the post of Secretary General of FEPACI (Pan African Federation of Filmmakers from 2006 to 2013, the first woman to hold the position.

Similarly, Jackie Motsepe, who served on the all-women-helmed juries at Fespaco 2013, is a producer and film activist.


The complexities and ambiguities of discourses in/on South African cinema by some white South African women have often revolved around the vexed history of apartheid and their positionality as white people in the post-1994 South Africa. A few examples explored in the African Women in Cinema Blog: Filmmaker and historian Rina Jooste, an Afrikaans-speaking South African of European descent asserts her identity and claims her experiences as part of African history. She uses filmmaking as a tool to explore the complex layers of South African society with a focus on Afrikaner identity and the collective history of apartheid from both sides. Scotland-based scholar Lizelle Bisschoff acknowledges her white privilege as a White South African and attempts to negotiate that identity in her work and research on African cultural production. In her films and writing, Bridget Thompson examines her evolution as a filmmaker outside of the “white cultural Bantustan into the wider black world intellectually, politically, socially, culturally and spiritually."

While not claiming by any means to be exhaustive, as the country's activities are ever-growing, the African Women in Cinema Blog includes a small selection of voices that are indicative of South African's diversity and wide-ranging initiatives.

*Source: Miriam Patsanza: From Zimbabwe to South Africa: starting all over again | Du Zimbabwe à l’Afrique du Sud: on recommence tout by/par Julia Landau. Ecrans d’Afrique/African Screen N° 8 - 1994. p. 30. Also include in Zimbawbe entry.

Seipati Bulane-Hopa: Fepaci (Pan African Federation of Filmmakers)
Moikgantsi Kgama's ImageNation

Zanele Muholi: Difficult Love

White Women of South Africa Negotiating Identities
Rina Jooste

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