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‘Is This a Nightmare?’: Shock and Outrage as South African Film Board Rejects Groundbreaking African Classic ‘Black Girl’ Over ‘Hate Speech’



The Joburg Film Festival defiantly went ahead with a screening of Ousmane Sembène’s “Black Girl” on Thursday, refusing to bow to political pressure after South Africa’s Film and Publications Board (FPB) denied it permission to hold a public screening of the Senegalese director’s groundbreaking debut.

In a decision that shocked festival organizers and many of the African filmmakers in attendance, a FPB reviewer recommended the film be submitted for “full classification” — a process that would determine its suitability for public viewing — “due to prejudicial element that contains acts of hate speech which is degrading of a human being.”

The festival has appealed the ruling but decided to go on with Thursday’s screening when no official response to that appeal appeared forthcoming. The FPB did not immediately respond to a request from Variety for comment.

Addressing moviegoers on Thursday, a festival spokesperson rejected the board’s “unfair” decision and defended the screening of Sembène’s “monument of African cinema,” describing it as “a matter of principle” that aligned with “the spirit of protest that is the founding spirit of our country.”

Rafiki Fariala
Courtesy of Joburg Film Festival

Variety understands that in addition to “Black Girl,” at least two other films screening at this week’s Joburg Film Festival have been flagged by the review board: Rafiki Fariala’s “We Students!,” a documentary about a group of university students in the Central African Republic that played at the Berlin Film Festival last year, and Vladimir Seixas’ “Rolê — Histórias dos Rolezinhos,” a documentary about shopping mall protests that mobilized thousands of Black people against racial profiling and violence by security guards in Brazil.

Based on a short story written by Sembène, “Black Girl” follows a young Senegalese woman who moves to France in search of a better life. After taking a job as governess for a wealthy white family, she finds her hopes thwarted by a barrage of racist and humiliating incidents that finally drive her to commit suicide.

Credited with being sub-Saharan Africa’s first feature film, Sembène’s 1966 debut was instrumental in laying the foundation for post-colonial African cinema. In a 2015 review of Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman’s documentary about the late filmmaker, Sembène!,” Variety’s Guy Lodge described “Black Girl” as “a brief, searing snapshot of immigrant life in France that gained unprecedented international exposure for a film from sub-Saharan African cinema,” adding that the director’s “scorching brand of political cinema has lost none of its rhetorical and sensory immediacy over the years.”

The film previously played at the Joburg Film Festival without controversy in 2016.

In South Africa, where memories of apartheid-era censorship run deep, the FPB’s decision met with swift backlash from the local film community.

“I do not understand it and I am absolutely horrified,” said Emmy-nominated documentarian Jihan El-Tahri (“House of Saud”), who is a member of the jury at this year’s festival and has worked as a filmmaker and university lecturer in South Africa for almost 20 years.

“‘Black Girl’ is not just any film. ‘Black Girl’ is a seminal film in African history,” she said. “This is the film that starts the idea of an African vantage point in international cinema [and] was the first film to give a voice to African women — the dignity of an African woman and what she faced.”

Ousmane Sembène’s “Black Girl” is credited with being sub-Saharan Africa’s first feature film.
Courtesy of The Film Foundation

El-Tahri, whose 2008 documentary “Behind the Rainbow” explored the transition of South Africa’s African National Congress from a liberation group into the ruling party, said the FPB’s ruling, if upheld, “would be a shift that is totally unacceptable for film heritage on the entire continent.

“If South African students, the South African public, are no longer allowed to see such films — the essential films that changed the vantage point from how we, from our perspective, can tell a story — that is a disaster,” she said.

Senegalese director Moussa Sène Absa, whose “Xalé” opened this year’s Joburg Film Festival, expressed disbelief at the board’s decision. “Am I dreaming? Is this a nightmare? ‘Black Girl’ censored in South Africa?,” he said. “No way. No way. No way.”

Moussa Sène Absa
Courtesy of Gerhard Kassner/Berlinale

Citing the movie’s influence on his own career as an emerging director more than three decades ago, Absa praised Sembène’s film for its visual poetry and withering critique of the subjugation and humiliation inflicted by French colonizers upon their West African colonies. It was the first film, he stressed, to upend the colonial-era narrative that African filmmakers were unable to tell their own stories.

“I cannot imagine it,” he said, reflecting on the ruling. “This film opened so many doors for African cinema. It doesn’t make sense.”

In the FPB report, a copy of which was obtained by Variety, the reviewer listed several “scenes of prejudice” in violation of film board regulations, among them a French newspaper headline describing the protagonist’s suicide (“Young negress slashes her throat in employer’s bathroom”), and a dinner table scene in which a French guest tells his companions “Africans only eat rice” and “their independence has made them less natural.”

That content, the reviewer determined, “may be threatening, disturbing, or cognitively harmful to children younger than 13 as they are still immature and impressionable to tolerate complex themes of exploitation and oppression…[and] will not be able to comprehend the intention of the director to show the impact of colonialism and slavery.”

Festival organizers, however, noted that children under the age of 13 were already restricted from watching the film.

Ousmane Sembène’s Venice Special Jury Prize winner “Mandabi” plays in Johannesburg this week.

“Black Girl” is the centerpiece of a programming strand at the Joburg Film Festival paying homage to Sembène, who would have celebrated his centennial birthday this year. Presented as part of the Africa Film Heritage Project, a collaboration between Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers and UNESCO to locate, restore and preserve African films, the sidebar will also screen a digitally restored version of Sembène’s Venice Special Jury Prize winner “Mandabi,” along with a selection of other pioneering African works.

The controversy this week in Johannesburg recalled a similar incident at the Durban Film Festival in 2013, when a ruling by the FPB against Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s “Of Good Report” forced organizers to show a black screen at the film’s opening-night premiere.

The Joburg Film Festival runs Jan. 31 – Feb. 5.

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TCM Sets Warner Bros. 100th Anniversary Program Slate Including 10 Restored Classic Films



Warner Bros. will commemorate its 100th anniversary with a block of programming on Turner Classic Movies starting April 1.

TCM will broadcast remastered and newly restored versions of 10 classic Warner Bros. films, each featuring an introduction from a filmmaker or film expert culled from the network’s ongoing partnership with the Film Foundation, a non-profit preservation and exhibition organization. The program coincides with the April 13-16 run of the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

On April 13, a new 4K restoration of 1959’s “Rio Bravo,” Howard Hawks’ classic western starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson, will premiere on TCM and serve as the opening night film of the festival. Dickinson will attend the in-person event, while Martin Scorsese will introduce the film on TCM’s small-screen presentation. Similarly, Warner Bros. will premiere a new 4K restoration of Elia Kazan’s “East of Eden,” starring James Dean, on both the big screen and the network, the latter featuring an introduction by filmmakers Wes Anderson and Joanna Hogg.

Other films planned for broadcast on TCM include “Land of the Pharaohs” and “Storm Warning” (both introduced by Scorsese), “Rachel, Rachel” (introduced by Ethan Hawke), “Safe in Hell” (by Alexander Payne), and “A Lion is in the Streets,” introduced by Daphne Dentz and Robyn Sklaren of the Warner Bros. Discovery Library.

TCM additionally plans to program trailers, archival interviews, documentaries and other ephemera from Warner Bros., complementing festival programs such as “Looney Tunes at the Oscars” and “Warner Bros. Coming Attractions,” panels exploring the studio’s extensive history.

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Jeff Goldblum Addresses His Jurassic Park Costar’s Cancer Diagnosis



Jurassic Park star Jeff Goldblum has addressed his costar Sam Neill’s diagnosis of stage 3 blood cancer. Goldblum portrayed mathematician Dr. Ian Macolm in the first Jurassic Park film opposite Neill’s paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant. He returned to his role as Ian in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and in Jurassic World: Dominion, the latter of which saw him reunite with Neill in the franchise for the first time since Spielberg’s original film.

Speaking with Evening Standard, Goldblum opened up about Neill’s diagnosis of stage 3 blood cancer, which the Jurassic Park actor revealed in his recent autobiography. He quietly spoke about Neill’s remission, hopeful that the actor would recover soon. Read what Goldblum had to say below:


“He shared it with us early on. He’s been in constant touch with me and, well, he looks fantastic, he sounds great. Hopefully, he’s as healthy as a horse now. I just adore him.”

How Jeff Goldblum & Sam Neill’s Jurassic Park Roles Defined Them

Having starred in Jurassic Park in 1993, Goldblum and Neill have continued to be friends since taking their roles in the dinosaur franchise. During the production of Jurassic World: Dominion and while dealing with the Covid pandemic, the duo began singing and posting cover songs online. The pair are good friends, which makes Goldblum’s well wishes for Neill’s recovery process all the more heartwarming.

Goldblum and Neill are also the only actors whose Jurassic Park characters visited Isla Sorna on the big screen. Ian Malcolm went to Site B in The Lost World: Jurassic Park to document the dinosaurs, while Alan Grant visited the island in Jurassic Park III after being hired to find a lost boy. Their return in subsequent Jurassic Park sequels underscores their roles as the heart of the franchise, made all the more prominent because of their reunion in Jurassic World: Dominion.

Thankfully, Neill’s cancer has been in remission for the last eight months, indicating the treatment he went through has been working to save his life. The talented actor is already filming a new project as well, having reassured his fans in an Instagram post earlier this week that he is doing well. Goldblum’s concern for his friend is one of many well wishes the Jurassic Park star has received as he continues to recover from his diagnosis.

Source: Evening Standard

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Vanessa Hudgens Sets Philippines Travel Documentary Exploring Her Family’s Asian Heritage



Vanessa Hudgens, the Asian American actor whose career kicked off in Disney’s “High School Musical” series, is set to shoot a travel documentary in the Philippines, the country of her mother’s birth.

The untitled project will shoot in Palawan and Manila in March. Paul Soriano is attached as a director, producer and executive producer. Mark A. Victor of TEN17P will also serve as executive producer. No distributor, broadcaster or streaming platform has yet been disclosed.

Soriano’s recent credits include directing the 2019 film “Mañanita” and Manny Pacquiao biopic “Kid Kulafu.”

The documentary is said to showcase the relationship between Hudgens and her Filipino mother, Gina, who emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 25, as well as Hudgens’ sister, Stella.

Since “High School Musical,” Hudgens has notched up key roles in “Spring Breakers”, “Gimme Shelter,” “Bad Boys for Life,” and the Oscar-nominated Lin-Manuel Miranda-directed musical “Tick, Tick …Boom!” Hudgens executive produced and starred in the film “The Knight Before Christmas” and all three installments of “The Princess Switch” series for Netflix. Hudgens is next set to star in the upcoming films “French Girl” and “Bad Boys 4.”

“I feel like ours is such a relatable story to so many women all over the world,” Hudgens said in a statement announcing the documentary. “The more that we can share, the more we can lift each other up.”

“We are honored to work with Vanessa for this film project. It’s inspiring to note that with everything she has achieved in life, she wants to discover her Filipino roots and pay homage to her mother’s country. Hopefully, this opens doors for many more collaborations to come,” said Soriano in a statement.

Soriano previously produced “A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” (2016), which won a special film award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and “Transit” in 2013, which was selected as the Philippines’ entry for the foreign language film category at the Academy Awards. He is also a presidential creative adviser to the Philippines’ government.

Hudgens is repped by CAA, Untitled Entertainment, the Lede Company and Ziffren Brittenham.

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