When We Were Black is a TV mini-series coming from South Africa, created and directed by Khalo Matabane and produced by Bornfree Media for SABC1.
The story is situated in Soweto, during the 1976 uprising. Fistos, an intelligent but shy teenager, meets Mangi, the girl of his dreams. She is the daughter of a local liberation preacher and also the girlfriend of Modise, a rising star in the world of student politics. The tagline is simple and universal: “Love in a time of revolt.” When We Were Black is an initiatory journey of a teenager who is trying to become a man by learning the art of seduction within a revolutionary context. While Fistos is facing the pain of unfulfilled love, he also has to get through the violence of his township.
But When We Were Black is not a hopeless vision of Apartheid. Actually, what strikes one the most is the colourful atmosphere, really in the spirit of the 70’. All the details of the clothes and haircuts show that the seventies-hippy-fashion also passed by the townships. But what makes Fistos’ neighbourhood so special is the enthusiastic music, the Mbaqanga. What also makes When We Were Black a UFO in the world of TV series is the handheld camera, the close-ups, the rapid pace of the editing and the brick colour of the frame reflecting the ground of the Townships. It’s a bit disturbing at first glance, but then you dive into this unexpected world and start to dance to the music and suffer for the clumsy Fistos. Indeed, the great value of the TV mini-series is the kindness of the characters, especially Fistos’ family, but also his funky schoolmates. They also reveal the ambiguity of being Black during Apartheid, which means being oppressed and not free to go everywhere in the country. But being a young black in the 70’s townships of Soweto also means love, having fun and struggling for your future. All the powerful hopes of this generation are well summarized in the title When We Were Black, which immediately sounds like the fight of Muhammed Ali against George Foreman in Kinshasa captured by the movie When We Were Kings.
When We Were black – Khalo Matabane – 4 x 60’ – 2006