‘Shirley Adams’ and the vagaries of working class coloured life

I’ve only heard good things about the feature film “Shirley Adams” directed by the young Oliver Hermanus–he’s from Cape Town, that should count for something; studied at the London Film School. I haven’t seen it yet. The film’s plot definitely resonates with me: “… It tells the story of a coloured mother in Mitchell’s Plain on Cape Town’s Cape Flats who struggles to care for her recently disabled son.”

Hermanus, by the way, was the only African filmmaker selected for the 2009 Cannes Film Festival’s Residence du Festival Program where he worked on his second film. The people of the Cape Flats, especially working class coloureds who make up of the bulk of the Western Cape province’s population, usually get rendered as stock characters or political caricature. An exception is documentary; think the work of director Francois Verster (his “The Mother’s House” and the more recent “Sea Point Days”). But generally they’re portrayed as klopse or as victims. When the film played at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, a friend excitedly emailed me that the performances “were on point,” that Hermanus resisted over-stylizing and he did justice to the vagaries of working class coloured life.

[The film’s Facebook page]

Further Reading

The house of exile

Edward Said once said of the usefulness of exile for intellectual work: it involves adopting “a spirit of opposition, rather than accommodation.” James Baldwin and Sisonke Msimang took it to heart.