Director: Zola Maseko.
Taye Diggs (Henry Nxumalo),
Gabriel Mann (Jurgen Schadeberg), Tumisho
Masha (Can Themba), Moshidi Motshegwa
(Florence Nxumalo), Jason Flemyng (Jim
Bailey), Zola (Slim (Alpheus))
Fezile Mpela (Todd Matshikiza), Greg
Melvill-Smith (Major Att Spengler),
Lindani Nkosi (Nelson Mandela),
Keketso Semoko (Fatsy), Tessa Jubber
(Carol Shand), Bonnie Henna (Dara
apartheid and the forced removal of residents from Sophiatown
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire summary. Curse words spelled out.
Sophiatown, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1955.
A black sportswriter namedHenry Nxumalo watches a boxing match from ringside. A fellow known as Mandela makes a bet with Henry and Henry Nxumalo. Henry tells Nelson maybe he should stick to politics.
Henry says: "Sophiatown/ the black man's last stronghold in white ruled South Africa." Henry brings his white photographer with him to a night club in Sophiatown. They go over to sit at a table with Henry's friends.
A carfull of blacks arrive at the nightclub. There are four men and two women. When Henry sees the driver come in, he excuses himself from the table saying that he needs to talk with this fellow (known as Slim or Alpheus). Slim knows Henry, so it's easy for Henry to speak with him. Henry says that his boss wants him to do another crime story for the newspaper. They set up a meeting place and time for tomorrow.
The very good and very pretty singerDora comes over and dances with Henry. She wants to spend time with him, but he says he has an early meeting tomorrow morning. Henry goes back to his table and friends.
The police! The police are here! Everyone startsquickly leaving the joint. Henry goes home to his pretty wife Florence.
In the morning students wonder what's wrong with their teacherCan, since he seems to be either sleeping or dead. A school administrator comes over and bangs his fist on the table. This makes Mr. Can Themba wake up.
At the newspaper the white photographer, the GermanJurgen Schadeberg, is taking pictures of a black woman in a one piece bathing suit. The boss, Mr. Jim Bailey, is white. When Henry comes in he speaks to the model and the guys, until he has to stop because the boss asks him if he has finished with that boxing story? Can Themba comes into the newsroom and the guys tease him about being so late.
Henry and Jurgen show up to get their gangster story. Slim tells the guys not to miss this. Slim and his aide go up to a tall man who is the leader of some gang. The tall man doesn't want to see Slim in his neighborhood. So they are going to settle this dispute with knifes. Slim wins when he stabs tall man with his knife three times in the chest. The big man falls to the ground.
At night Slim drops off Henry at his house. Just as Henry is starting to go up the steps, Slim tells him he doesn't want to see anything written up about that knife fight.
Henry talks to his wife about the knife fight. She says there's nothing heroic about two black men fighting with each other. The couple has sex. (brief nudity)
In the morning Florence wants to know the name of the woman who bought him a new suit. Henry tells her that Alpheus bought him the new suit. Florence doesn't like the constant emphasis on black crime in Sophiatown. She says the real story is right outside their window with people with no electricity, no proper running water, no educationand with diseases everywhere.
Henry tells Florence that the appeal of crime stories is called escapism. People want to get away from their reality. Florence says that Jim Bailey doesn't give a damn about Henry or her. He's just another white man getting rich off the natives. She wants Henry to use his voicefor something good.
Henry walks to the Drum Magazine office. A black woman asks him to help her. Someone stole her son's pass and the police arrested him. When she went to the police station to see her son, they told her he had been transferred to work on a farm in Bethel, called Harmony. Her son has been gone now for a year. Henry tells her he will see what he can do for her.
Henrygoes to his boss, but Bailey says: "I'm sorry Henry. It's . . it's just too risky. This is not a political magazine." If the magazine criticizes the government, the police will be down upon them closing the magazine in the blink of an eye. Henry says he can disguise the article as criticizing a certain farm in Bethel. The article will not even mention apartheid. "I just want to check it out." The boss says: "You do want you want, but I can't promise I'll print it or bail you out." And where's the gangster story? Henry says he will have it before the end of the day.
As the car heads for Bethel, Henry reads to Jurgen some news articles about this farm. The farmer was fined 50 pounds for hanging a laborer from a tree and then pouring scalding hot water down his throat when the man asked for a drink of water.
Henry hops out of the car dressed like a poor farm worker with no shoes. He walks by six natives digging a ditch. Henry talks to the farm owner saying he's from Natal. The owner asks to see Henry's apartheid pass. Henry hands it over to him and the farmer tears it up saying: "You're working for me now."
So now Henry is working in the fields hoeing. The native foreman rides on a horse and carries a whip with him. And the forman is quick to use the whip. From a distance Jurgen takes photos of the work crew.
Jurgen returns to Drum Magazine. He says Henry got the job. One of the writers says that the boss has to get Henry out of there because if they find out who the newcomer really is, they are going to hang him.
While Henry digs in the soil, he uncovers a dead man's hand. The man beside him tells him: "Don't look. Don't look."
Two days on the job and Henry wants to quit. The foreman pushes Henry into the boss' office. The boss calls him an ungrateful kaffir and has him punished. As Henry tries to run back to the field, the foreman slashes at him with his whip. Luckily Jurgen comes roaring up in the car. Henry pulls the foreman off his horse and slugs him on the ground. He then rushes into the car. The boss jumps into a pick-up truck with a rifle and starts chasing Henry and Jurgen.
A shot knocks out the back window of the car. The pick-up truck has to stop to avoid hitting the foreman on his horse. This allows time enough for Jurgen and Henry to get away from the brute.
The magazine boss brings flowers to check on Henry's health. Florence receives him very coldly. Sarcastically, she says he has bruises and a broken rib, but she's sure those flowers will make it all better. The boss is a real creep. He brings a type writer to Henry so he can type while he is in bed. He also is endangering Henry's life, because he is going to print pictures of the knife fight that Slim was in. On the other hand, the boss is going to use the story of the farm as the cover story.
Henry and Florence attend a cocktail party over at the boss's house. There is a nice mixture of both blacks and whites. The boss has a band and a good singing group to entertain the folks and keep them dancing. Mr. Bailey gets up and grabs the microphone to congratulate Drum selling 60,000 copies of the anniversary edition. Then the boss thanks the writer, Henry, and the photographer Jurgen.
Later the boss introduces two fellows from England who are part of the investigation into the farm story. One of the Englishmen calls Henry a very plucky "boy". Henry doesn't like that, excuses himself and walks away.
One of the natives dances with a white woman. The singer from the Sophiatown night club gives Henry a bad look and Florence sees this. She gets mad and tells her husband that she wants to leave now. Henry is disappointed, but he knows Florence is a very tough woman, so he goes with her. At first the boss says he won't sign their apartheid pass, but one look from Florence and the boss signs.
Henry has borrowed Jurgen's car. He and Florence pile in and off they go. He scolds his wife for not putting on a nice smile for his boss, but all Florence is interested in is that night club singer. He tells her that if she can't behave, he will have to leave her at home from now on.
Henry interviews Mandela as he walks along in a protest march. He and the people are going to enter Foxbury without their apartheid passes in a peaceful and orderly way. All ofa sudden the white police show up to block the way. Mandela knows the man in charge of the police unit. He goes up to the major and asks him why does he think that Mandela's skin color makes him less of a human being than the major? The major says the white man was born to rule and the black man to serve. The major tells Mandela to show him their passes. "We don't have those things", says Mandela. The police start putting the handcuffs on the demonstrators.
Henry wants to break the law and get arrested with the demonstrators. Bailey asks him how long will he be in prison Henry says no more than two days. Bailey tells him to go ahead and do it but he doesn't want to know how Henry gets in.
Slim comes to berate Henry about the article. Jurgen tries to tell him that the article makes Slim an even greater figure than he was before. Slim is not convinced. Henry sees and hears Slim and he just turns around and goes back. Slim tells Jurgen that he's lucky that he doesn't kill Jurgen right now for what happened. Jurgen is very nervous about the confrontation.
Henryasks Jurgen at lunch why did Bailey have to print those pictures? Henry and Jurgen tell the black fellow having an affair with a white woman that he better be careful because not everything goes in Sophiatown. He invites the two guys over to his house at 8 p.m. for a little party.
It's a mixed race party. The white woman dating a black man, named Carol, dances with Henry. She says she heard that he has brass balls. Her boyfriend comes up behind her and grabs her. The boyfriend warns Carol of the possible repercussions of their relationship. She shushes him saying that she knows exactly what she's doing. She kisses him.
Bailey tells Jurgen to take Can and go visit the 7th Day Adventist Church. Jurgen objects that the church is all white. Bailey says they will put their tolerance to a test.
While washing clothes, Florence goes through her husband's pockets and find earrings there. She is upset. She just stares at the earrings for awhile.
Jurgen and Can arrive at the white church. Jurgen says it will go all right because there are women and children in the church. Can says that's no church. "That's the Devil's Den."
Alone Can walks up to the church. He immediately is grabbed, hit in the stomach and carried outside. Jurgen runs over to tell the whites to let that man go.
Florence dresses up sexy with the earrings on and fixes Henry his favorite dish: beef stew. He wonders if he forgot their anniversary, but Florence says no. You can see now that Florence is simmering at a low boil.
Henry pretends that he's drunk. He starts insulting some policemen to get them to arrest him so he can get into the prison. The police are not reacting, so he grabs a white woman and she starts screaming. Now the police grab him.
Bailey gets a call.He finishes it and then tells his staff that Henry got inside. The staff give out with a big shout for Henry. They clap for him too. This, however, is no picnic for Henry. Like the other prisoners, he is treated badly.
A white guard pushes a black man's face into a bucket of human waste by the use of his foot on his neck. The day to day brutality is done by large black prisoners. They constantly hit theother prisoners. When the prison official lets Henry go, he says that from the look of his face (not marked up at all), it looks like the guards treated him well.
Henry writes up the story.
Henry goes back to the night club. Bailey and Jurgen are there already. And so are Carol and Can. When the couple start dancing, Bailey tells Henry that he must try to speak to Can about dropping the white girl, because it could mean prison for Can. Bailey leaves.
And now guess who comes over? Slim. Henry is nervous, but says he can explain what happened. But Slim just asks why wasn't he put on the cover of Drum? Relieved, Henry says he fought to get Slim on the cover, but the boss just wouldn't agree with him. Slim tells him that he better be on that cover soon, or there is going to be a "fatal accident in your name".
Henry starts to tell Jurgen something, but then stops himself. He says he's going for a walk. But where he lands up is at the home of the singer. He asks to talk with the woman outside. She obliges him and he tells Dora that he has a wife and kids. Dora says he's going to miss her. She now hands Henry a notice of eviction from her house. Henry says he thought Dora owned the place. So did she. Henry says no one's moving out. He takes the paper with him.
Henry goes hometo his wife. He says he knows he has not been a perfect husband, but it's over between him and Dora.
Jurgen and Henry go to the planning department of Johannesburg. They learn from the woman clerk that all of Sophiatown is going to be torn down and rebuilt. The woman goes to answer the phone, the men grab the map she was showing them and run out.
Bailey says he can't print the story unless he gets the facts. And he wants to know where Can is? He's been missing for five days now.
Canlooks like he's about to get into real trouble. He walks arm in arm with Carol while a policeman is only about twelve yards from them. Two policemen grab Can when the couple is about to kiss. Carol says that the black man is her driver and the police leave.
Henry plays with his kids outside. Florence tells him it's good to have him home. Henry tells her that Sophiatown is going to be torn down. Florence seems relieved saying that place was a nest for crime and disease.
Bailey is working late. The major pays him a visit. He doesn't like the muckraking that takes place at Drum. And there's a rumorthat one of the Drum employees is going with a white girl. Bailey says his reporters did nothing illegal. The major tells him that there will be no stories about Sophiatown. He tells Bailey that his articles are not making a difference in South Africa. All Bailey is doing is leading his monkeys into the lion's cage. Before he leaves the major says that Bailey is nothing more than a "liberal, kaffir-loving, little prick".
Henry continues to work on the Sophiatown story. He tells Bailey that the government is deliberately moving the black areas from the European areas. Bailey says he wants to speak to him in private. He tells him he can't use these stories. Henry says they got to you, didn't they?
Can and Carol are together in bed when major and two black policemen bursts in on them. The major has them pulled out of bed and taken away.
The Drum staff learn that Can's in prison. Bailey says they will bail him out. Thepolice beat Can up pretty bad. Henry tells him to go easy for awhile. Carol was deported this morning. Can says he is going to prison for falling in love. Never before has he felt so helpless in this land of apartheid. Henry says they will just have to fight apartheid.
Henry meets with Mandela and two other men. He says Bailey got spooked and won't print any story about Sophiatown. So the other men say they need to go on with their plans for a defiance campaign. Henry tells them he is going to get a story that will link with the defiance campaign. He knows some tough guys who can help him. Mandela tells him to go ahead, but don't tell them what he's up to.
Henry tells Slim he can get him on the cover of Drum but there can be no violence involved. So Slim organizes a protest with the demonstrators supporting a family that says they will not be removed from Sophiatown.
And now comes the police to stop the demonstration. The demonstrators go after the police and they drive away. Bailey is very happy about the photographs that Jurgentook during the confrontation.
In four days the ANC (African National Congress) is going to start a big demonstration in Sophiatown. Bailey just asks Henry if he's ready for the repercussions. Henry asks him the same question? Bailey says: "Fuck those Dutch shit-kickers!"
Henry hasn't slept for 48 hours. Bailey tells him to go home. Henry starts for home, but is stopped by Can. He tells Henry he is going to Swaziland. [A small, landlocked country in South Africa, bordered to the north, south and west by South Africa, and to the east by Mozambique. The population is primarily ethnic Swazis whose language is Swati and then English.] Can shakes hands with Henry and takes off with his suitcase.
People are now calling Henry, Mr. Drum.
Henry goes home to see his house trashed. His wife is a mess emotionally saying she can't take anymore of this. Henry sits down with her to calm her. She says that Henry is watching out for everyone else, except his wife and children.
The police led by the major must have heard about the ANC march because they have come a day early to clear out Sophiatown. The black workers bust down the doors and pull the people out from their homes. Henry and Jurgen are there to get the story along with photos.
Even though work is over, Henry goes to the Drum office to start typing the story. Bailey asks him what's he doing and Henry says he just came here to write. The boss says there was nothing Henry could have done to stop what happened. The major was not about to let the ANC march take place in Sophiatown.
Henry says he and his family are going on holiday, like Bailey told him to. Jurgen comes in to develop some film.
As Henry walks home from work, Slim approaches him saying some people offered him good money to kill Henry. He stabs Henry to death. He now runs away from the scene of the crime.
Florence comes to Drum looking for her husband. Bailey gets the call about Henry just as Florence greets Jurgen. He asks her to come into his office. Jurgen looks at Bailey for some answer. Bailey just shakes his head no. The staff see Florence's terrified reaction. They all know now what happened.
The major oversees more people being removed from their houses. But then he sees a mass of people coming down the street. It's a funeral for Henry. The blacks join in the funeral procession. Can shows up for the funeral.
Major is really angry that the blacks stop work and go to the funeral. The attendees sing as they walk along.
This is a film about fighting the apartheid system in South Africa. The staff of the Drum Magazine are inspired by writer and colleague Henry Nxumalo to fight the system. Henry is helped by his German photographer Jurgen. Henry keeps coming up with lots of good ideas to criticize the apartheid system indirectly so their magazine doesn't get closed down. Henry's fame keeps growing until he is seen as a problem by the white communities in the area. The whites decide to take down Sophiatown, a black community near the European communities. Taye Diggs does a great job as Henry. Jason Flemyng (as the boss Jim Bailey) was very good too. Lindani Nkosi (as Nelson Mandela) was way too small to play the role of the very tall Mandela.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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