The Schmooze

Apartheid's Overlooked Sins — Through a Jewish Lens

In the late 1980s, South Africa experienced a period of violence leading up to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and to the abolishment of the apartheid government.

Sara Blecher, granddaughter of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, was in the midst of it, working as a journalist. She later realized that the complex intra-black conflicts, which the white government fomented, were still often neglected in the country’s narrative of its history. This inspired her to direct and produce her first feature film, “Otelo Burning,” which had its digital release January 14. The script is based on an amalgamation of true stories about this time, recorded during workshops with inhabitants of the township Lamontville near Durban, where the story is set.

It starts off like a feel-good coming-of-age story set against the startling beauty of the South African coast: Otelo and New Year are two teenagers growing up in the township in the late 1980s. When they meet Mandla, who is an experienced bodysurfer, they are introduced to this new sport, an activity practiced predominantly by white people.

The boys escape from the erupting violence between the two rivaling black parties in the township, the ANC and Inkatha, by going to the beach and improving on their surfing — until events take a tragic turn.

Blecher, 46, grew up in Johannesburg. She attended high school and college in New York City and returned to her home country afterward. In March she will start shooting her second feature, “Andani and the Mechanic,” the story of a young female entrepreneur dealing with the death of her father and with unspoken love.

Blecher spoke to the Forward’s Anna Goldenberg about what stories dealing with the Holocaust have in common with those about apartheid.

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Apartheid's Overlooked Sins — Through a Jewish Lens

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