Here’s a copy of Jared Orlin’s article on A MILLION COLOURS from the April 15th edition of South Africa’s YOU magazine. Fantastic article!

A MILLION COLOURS-Life After e’Lollipop_YOUmag

To sit with Muntu Ndebele on the film set of A MILLION COLOURS gives me the distinct sense that the pleasure is all mine. After all, the scenes portrayed before us are his life story, although the adventure, danger and romance seem more fitting of a Hollywood movie than of a real life. I pinch myself from from time to time, startled by the truth that this really happened. To him. To this guy, Muntu, here on my left.

while filming the crack denAs the film’s Associate Producer, Muntu has special access and advisory oversight on the set. When he is not watching the film monitor or coaching actor Wandile Molebatsi on what it means to play “Muntu”, he is writing in a journal. He writes to remember and, I suppose, at times to forget. Writing his story has been his healing therapy ever since he hit rock bottom more than 10 years ago. The film doesn’t leave out the dark realities of his past – his fall from grace just months after the 1976 blockbuster “e’Lollipop” made him South Africa’s most beloved childhood star. Forced into hiding after participating in the 16 June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, Muntu’s life spiraled downward into drugs, crime and despair. These moments in his journey are brilliantly portrayed by Wandile – sometimes too brilliantly, and Muntu has to turn away.

I spent a day in Soweto with Muntu. Like a good tourist, I already knew the basics about the place: the forced removals that brought black people there under Apartheid; the jazz and shebeens and gospel choir; the site of the 16 June 1976 student uprising; the stomping grounds for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu; that it is today nothing like it was back then…

But my real education began when Muntu stood on the road in the place where he watched young Hector Pieterson die on that fateful June day. Or maybe it when he showed me where his gang prowled, and where they took their stolen cars. No, it must have been when we entered his mother’s house. She showed me old photographs of Muntu and Norman from “e’Lollipop” and took Muntu’s South African Oscar down from the shelf. With that look that only mothers give and tears that contain a salty mixture of sorrow and joy, she said “My son (shaking her head while pondering the peaks and valleys of Muntu’s life), I thank God for second chances.” They embraced.

I took 13 pages of notes on that day in Soweto with Muntu.

“Look at this (footage of the 16 June 1976 student uprising). It looks like a movie but it’s real. The kids are dead. (Quietly/Painfully) Oh it brings back memories.”

“We were ‘repossessing’ from the apartheid regime. They robbed our land and made us slaves. We were angry.”

“I was the worst car thief. The worst because I was the best.”

“I won’t blame anyone for my mistakes. But I never gave up hope.”

“In prison, your life is worth 2 Rand.”

“During my dark years, Wendy (Muntu’s wife) was there for me. She’s so strong.”

“Crack controls your life.”

“I weighed 43kg when Uncle Andre found me.”

“It’s forgiveness that drew me to God.”

“After drugs, I went to Miracle Gym. This is my chance. Don’t blow it. But I couldn’t lift even 5kg.”

“I’ve been clean for 8 years. I want to keep building my chest.”

“I’m famous again. I speak to kids and they want my autograph.”

“I’m a living testimony that a man can change.”

From his stylish clothes, his charming smile, and his genuine nature, it’s hard to imagine Muntu with a crack pipe or hijacking a car. Then again, with the style, smile and congeniality, I’d probably hand him my keys. Anyway, gone are the days. Yes, thank God for second chances.

Now sober for eight years, Muntu who turns 50 this year (though you’d never be able to tell to look at him) is a motivational speaker to schoolchildren and inmates. His story is ultimately one of hope and redemption. And so is A MILLION COLOURS.

Click here to become a fan. Follow the drama.


10 April 2010

It’s 7am. The sun – rather, a hint of the sun’s light – is coming up over the flat mountain. The clouds are low and ominous, and moving swiftly as the wind blows through the brush below. Round huts – yellow, blue, purple, green – with pointed thatch roofs are perched on the not-quite-terraced “1000 Hills”. Cattle herders are marching their bulls, women and children are carrying jugs to the well. The village is waking up to the squawks of chickens, the bleats of goats, and the sound of the film crew as they shout instructions while steadying the cameras on the slopes of the valley.

We’re in Zululand. Home of the Zulu nation. A tribe that is as rich in its history as in the colors and shapes that comprise its existence. And if on “action”, A MILLION COLOURS captures even a glimpse of this richness – tradition, culture, beauty – we’ll be making art.

Sawubona! Good morning!

A MILLION COLOURS shot for 3 days at the old, abandoned Kempton Park Hospital. If we were in America, I’d call it “Americana” at its best – a relic from another time and place. (Do I say “Africana” here?) It’s a fascinating relic here in Jozi, to say the least.

The hospital was shut down in 1997 and is allegedly haunted. Once a premier hospital in Gauteng province, it’s been sitting alone and abandoned – except for night security and the occasional film shoot – ever since. From the number of broken windows and graffiti on the walls, you can see that this place has been the object of many a ghost hunt. They say the ghosts from the psychiatric ward are the most mischievous. A few of the crew slept over, just to try to catch a glimpse of some crazy ghosts on the prowl. I admit, it was eerie at night, but I never felt my hair raise the way I usually do when ghosts are present (for example at the “Spook Walk” in elementary school). If you’re into this sort of thing, here’s a Facebook Group dedicated to this haunted hospital. You can live vicariously through the 7,957 other Kempton Park Hospital ghost hunters out there.

Ghosts aren’t really my thing, but everything else about this place is. And I mean everything, considering EVERYTHING from the hospital’s operational days is still within its walls, left standing and intact as in a mysterious reverence to days gone by. It’s as if in 1997 all the doctors, nurses and administrative staff put down their scalpels, stethoscopes, and notebooks and just up and walked away. They left behind hundreds of hospital beds; X-rays of teeth, lungs, and bones; rooms full of incubators; cabinets full of medicine, gauze and bandages; stacks of medical records – full handwritten reports (in Afrikaans) of patients’ medical histories, diagnostics and prescriptions; signs for the waiting rooms and newest vaccines; hospital intake and discharge logs; doctors’ ID badges; desks, chairs, stretchers…

Eerie – yeah, ok. Fascinating – most definitely. This is time standing still!

Kudos to the crew whose job it is to keep these onlookers quiet during takes!


15 March 2010

I’ve mentioned before that Sandton, this northern suburb of Johannesburg where we are staying, is often referred to as “Africa’s richest square mile”. There’s money here – big global businesses, malls with all the international brands, luxury cars and spas and hotels, wealthy residential estates with security guards and four BMWs and numerous staff (with their own staff quarters). The lifestyle of the Sandtonista means that I still pay NYC prices for breakfast – mostly because I’m too traffic-avoiding, or hungry, or lazy to drive elsewhere. (Believe me, I’m more than appalled that I just used “lazy” and “drive” in the same sentence, since the cafe where I’m currently breakfasting is about the same distance as the walk I take every day from our NYC apartment to the subway. But I drove here….lazily.)

When in Rome…

Given that I’m rapidly adjusting to the Sandtonista lifestyle (minus any designer outfit), I guess I shouldn’t have been so shocked to open the March 2010 issue of South Africa’s Shape Magazine and find this article:

“Looking after your domestic”, the “your” so overtly possessive, so powerful, so white. The picture emphasizing the point – you’re white, your domestic is black.

Yet, here in Sandton, this picture is accurate. Ever since the “white flight” from downtown during and just after the struggle years, a largely white elite has been thriving in the northern suburbs, with the black majority filling the economic stratum of supporting service roles. It’s just the way it is, I suppose one could say. Isn’t the magazine just being relevant? Shouldn’t I just be thankful for all of the employment the sector creates?

The article offered some suggestions on how to be a good employer to your domestics, from health insurance to vacation to pension funds. It reiterated the laws around monthly minimum wage: 1442.86 Rand, which is 7.40 Rand/Hour for domestics working more than 27 hours per week.

Let me put it this way: I’m on my second cappuccino – 18 Rand (each). I had one of the cheaper breakfasts on the menu – 50 Rand. At today’s foreign exchange rates, 7.40 Rand is exactly 1.00 USD. A dollar an hour to wash my dishes, clean my house, make my dinner, look after my children, do my laundry!

I have a Master’s degree in International Business. I know better than to flip out at mere exchange rates. One has to look at the bigger picture, the pricing parity for what 7.40 Rand can buy in the places the domestics return to at the end of the day – the places they call home, where they buy food, pay rent, take their children to school. I assume Diana, who cleans our apartment each weekday, does not pay 18 Rand for a cappuccino in Soweto where she lives with her children. But, honestly, I don’t know for sure. I don’t know how much she makes, or how much she pays in rent, or if she has money to spare.

All I know is that shelling out 100 Rand for breakfast in Sandton while reading about the hourly wages of domestics makes me feel unsettled. It highlights the enormous disparity between the rich and the poor here in South Africa, the former who are still predominantly white, just like the picture in the magazine. And just like me, an accidental Sandtonista. Ugh.