South African films

South African films: 10 films about South Africa

South African films and films about South Africa , set in this wonderful country in the south of the African continent , are the fruit of South African cinema and its controversial history , but not only that. The main themes of the films shot in South Africa, in fact, are those of racial segregation and the fight for freedom . But also about the ancestral traditions and events of the country. In fact, the ideologies present within cinema must be explained in the historical context in which we find ourselves, from colonialism to Apartheid . So let’s discover the best films set here, getting inspired for our next trip to South Africa!

Top 10 Films South Africa

The South African films shot in this country are the result of the wonderful places , history of South Africa and its culture . South African cinema and its films trace the country’s complex past , rich in nuances, cultural influences and struggles against injustice. This fervor of a people has allowed the birth of a lively artistic and cinematographic movement . The first screening in the country took place in 1895 , at the Empire Theater of Varieties in Johannesburg . Where also took place the rally in which Gandhi described non-violent protest for the first time. In 1916 the production company African Film Productions was founded and the first films from South Africa were in English with a few exceptions in Afrikaans . With the onset of apartheid in 1948 , films set in South Africa faced heavy censorship and control. Limiting the representation of society.

Segregation and discrimination were therefore represented only in an allegorical or veiled way. The most courageous directors, such as J ans Rautenbach and Lionel Rogosin, who told the reality in a critical way through South African films , were censored and banned . The New South African Cinema movement was born in the 1970s to denounce apartheid . With films such as Place of Weeping and Johannesburg, mon amour , obtaining numerous awards, raising public awareness . After 1994 , with the end of segregation, South African films flourished. With new voices and stories that also speak of their controversial past, as well as the future .

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1. Cry of freedom

The first film set in South Africa that we recommend, directed by Richard Attenborough Cry of Freedom (1987) is an unmissable work to discover South African cinema. Set in 1970 , it tells the true story of struggle and friendship between Donald Woods , a white journalist, and Steve Biko , a black activist of Black Consciousness . Donald, a liberal, works for the Daily Dispatch , an East London newspaper . Steve is a young doctor and charismatic leader in the fight against apartheid . From their meeting a strong friendship will be born , based on commitment to social justice and mutual respect.

Biko, following various riots, becomes a target of the regime , being arrested . Woods denounces the incident and the brutality of the police, as well as the injustices of the regime. A dramatic story of friendship and justice, but also one that highlights social disparities through South African cinema. Furthermore, the film ends with a scene reminiscent of the Soweto massacre . It occurred in 1976 by the police, who clashed with a group of black students.

cry of freedom - south african films - south african film
Cry of Freedom

2. Invictus

Film directed by Clint Eastwood , Invictus (2009), is an adaptation of the novel Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin. Furthermore, everything is inspired by true events . During the 1995 Rugby World Cup , which took place in South Africa following the election of Mandela as president. Following the fall of apartheid and its establishment, South Africa finds itself in a delicate historical period . Mandela is in fact the nation’s first black leader. His goal is peace among the South African population, divided by racial hatred . This division is even more visible in the national rugby team, the Springboks , a symbol of Afrikaner pride .

Following the end of racial segregation, the team is readmitted to international competition after 10 years of exclusion . For the 1995 World Cup, Mandela begins to take an interest in the team. Hoping that his victory will serve as a catalyst for national pride and unity of the people. He contacts the captain, François Pienaar , explaining the weight of the possible victory. The relationship between the leader and the athlete will become a real friendship , also strengthening the team, fresh from numerous defeats. Finally, the clash with the feared New Zealand All Blacks will come . A film set in South Africa, symbol of the rapprochement of the population and of South African integration .


3. Mother Africa

A South African film that allows us to discover the life of Miriam Makeba through cinema . An incredible woman, African musician and international star . Mika Kaurismäki ‘s 2011 film , Mama Africa is a documentary about Makeba’s life, allowing us to discover the life of a character who fought against apartheid . Because of her message , in fact, Miriam spent her life in exile , singing songs with deep meaning, anchored to the roots of her traditions. In her 50-year career , she has performed for illustrious figures such as Marlon Brando and John F. Kennedy , also performing alongside Dizzie Gillespie and Harry Belafonte.

With two marriages , first with Hugh Masekela and then with Stokely Carmichael, she had a complicated life , characterized by her activism , to have justice for all oppressed African peoples and truth for her country. A film about South Africa through one of her most important and popular characters on an international level, discovering through cinema the life of an artist over 50 years, also thanks to the point of view of those who knew her and saw her perform.

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Mother Africa

4. Winnie Mandela

Film shot in South Africa, ideal for discovering South African history through cinema, Winnie Mandela (2011) by Darrell Roodt is based on the life of Winnie Mandela. The film is also based on her biography of him, written by Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob. This South African film tells Winnie ‘s story , starting from her childhood , arriving at her marriage to Nelson Mandela and retracing her 27 years in prison . This film, therefore, allows us to observe Mandela’s rise in politics, his fight against apartheid and the intimate life of a leader and influential historical figure from a different and intimate point of view .

Filming took place mainly between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Robben Island , where the prison is located . A strong woman and controversial figure , Winnie was repeatedly labeled with a key role for the liberation of the African people, especially in the historical period in which her husband was in prison. In fact, she always fought on the front line during the revolts, without compromising. But while her husband is remembered as a hero, Winnie is demonized by the media. She is a strong woman, often denigrated by history and an icon.

winnie mandela
Winnie Mandela

5. Zulu

For lovers of the thriller genre , among the best films in South African filmography, don’t miss Zulu (2013), by Jérôme Salle , based on the novel of the same name by Caryl Ferey. Set in Cape Town in 2010, the body of a young white girl is found inside a botanical garden. Ali Neuman , a veteran cop with a dark past, is put in charge of the case, starting the murder investigation . Joining him during the investigations will be Brian Epkeen , a young and inexperienced agent, son of a powerful man in the city. As the case progresses, the two will uncover dangerous and complex secrets , which will drag them into the bowels of Cape Town to uncover the truth .

Here, they will come face to face with corruption, violence and even secrets that were meant to remain in their past . South African cinema offers us an intense work full of twists and turns, dealing with themes such as the consequences of apartheid , showing tensions created by racial hatred still strongly present in the country. A raw portrait of the criminal world of Cape Town, but also a story of redemption for the two protagonists, tormented by their own demons.

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6. Sarafina! The scent of freedom

Set in Soweto in 1976 , Serafina , the protagonist of this 1992 musical by Darrell Roodt , is a very lively South African girl. Her mother , a waitress for the whites, has given her lessons in freedom and nonconformity , which she decides to put into practice. She knows, again thanks to her mother, the true history of her country, which leads her to want to stage a musical, thus asking for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison . Living in the time of white repression, she will experience violence firsthand , understanding that it is more important to know the true meaning of freedom and know how to use it, than to be able to ask for it.

Based on the 1988 musical of the same name, the film achieved great success also thanks to the masterful performance of Whoopi Goldberg . The film opens with the historical event of the clash between students and police in Soweto , when the South African government imposed Afrikaans as the official language in schools . The protest was brutally repressed by the police, killing many students who were fighting for their freedom. Serafina, devastated by her son’s death , begins the fight against apartheid in her own way, joining other brave women with her songs for freedom. One of the best musical films set in South Africa ever.

seraphim! the scent of freedom - films set in south africa
Serafina! The scent of freedom

7. Beloved Land

Also known by the title Cry, the Beloved Country , this 1995 work of South African cinema, by Darrell Roodt , is based on the novel of the same name by Alan Paton. The story is set in October 1946 , before the implementation of apartheid and segregation laws in South Africa. Stephen Kumalo , a Zulu reverend, is sent to Johannesburg to his village, where he discovers that Absalom , his son, has been arrested . He is accused of killing a white man , John. James Jarvis , John ‘s father , is a fervent supporter of apartheid who observes the world from an ignorant and privileged position.

Both fathers , for different reasons, will have to deal with mourning, pain and loss, dealing with the situation in different ways. Stephen’s path is that of forgiveness and understanding, while James fights full of anger , unable to accept what happened to his son. By making two similar and parallel journeys , the two fathers finally reach mutual understanding , sharing the gaze of humanity. A film set in South Africa that brings a message of hope , through the path of compassion and dialogue , essential to heal the wounds of South African company.

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Terra Amata

8. Humandroid

South African cinema and its films also offer us visionary films with an eye towards the future, combining various elements of its local culture , such as Humandroid (2015), in which Die Antwoord – the famous duo from Cape Town – also participated as actors and with their music . South African film shot mainly in Johannesburg by Neill Blomkamp , ​​it is based on a 2004 short film by the same director. In a dystopian world , in Johannesburg the police , to combat the high crime rate , invest in scouts , robot policemen designed by the Tetravaal company and engineer Deon Wilson . Managed by artificial intelligence, the robots are autonomous and are updated with a flash drive , protected by the company itself.

Meanwhile, in the same company, Vincent Moore creates the Moose , a gigantic robot that can be controlled remotely, but which is not chosen, causing arguments between the two engineers. Ninja, Yolandi and Amerika , three criminals , kidnap Deon and the flash drive, intending to possess a robot to help them with their criminal plans. The robot is named Chappie and Yolandi trains it like a child , just like a mother would , provoking Ninja’s anger who wants it as a weapon . An action, science fiction film with a poetic ending, which deals with the themes of the ethics of artificial intelligence and discrimination .

humandroid - films set in south africa

9. The color of freedom

Drama film set in South Africa from 2007 by Bille August , The Color of Freedom – Goodbye Bafana , is a work of South African cinema that we recommend to discover something more about Mandela ‘s story . Furthermore, the film tells the true story of friendship between the white prison guard Gregory and Nelson Mandela, during his incarceration , based on the biographical book written by James Gregory himself.

Moved by deep feelings against black South Africans , James Gragory is a white man and works as a warder in Robben Island prison ; prison where the leader of the struggle against Apartheid is taken. Knowing the Xhosa language , Gragory is given the task of spying on Mandela and monitoring him during his imprisonment, intercepting conversations between his companions. From tormentor , however, moved by the strong feelings arising from the leader’s speeches, he will transform from persecutor to supporter and then friend . Starting to support a democratic country , where whites and blacks have the same rights.

the color of freedom
The color of Freedom

10. District 9

Finally, among the films set here in South Africa that we would like to recommend to you, we find the science fiction work District 9 (2009), by Neill Blomkamp . Furthermore, the title of the film is based on historical events that actually happened during apartheid, in the residential area called District 6 in Cape Town . South African cinema uses science fiction to deal with topics such as racial segregation and xenophobia , in a unique way. What was applied to the black population of South Africa is done to alien refugees in this film . Filmed with the mockumentary technique , i.e. a fake documentary, using interviews and insights from journalists. Set in a futuristic Johannesburg in 1982 , when a spaceship arrives above the city.

The 2 million aliens on board, who arrived on Earth to escape poverty, are confined in a refugee camp , District 9, living in absolute poverty and called prawns . In 2010 , a government agent, Wikus van de Merwe , is tasked with transferring aliens to a new camp, but is contaminated by a fluid that transforms him into a human-alien hybrid . Hunted like prawns, Wikus takes refuge in District 9, meeting a highly intelligent alien, Christopher Johnson . A film about South Africa that has received numerous awards and which uniquely explores the theme of racism, showing how ignorance creates hatred .

district 9
District 9

Traveling to the sets of South African cinema

If you have reached this point you can’t wait to leave for a trip to South Africa , it’s time to get organized and discover the best itineraries to retrace the film locations in this country and thus relive your favorite scenes from these wonderful and innovative South African films!

Classic South Africa Tour

In short: South Africa 10-day group tour to discover the country.
Itinerary: Cape Town, Pretoria, Mpumalanga, Karongwe Game Reserve.
Duration: 10 days – 7 nights
Confirmed Departures
Code: SAARCH1001

Instead, to discover the wonders of two countries, we recommend our South Africa and Victoria Falls Tour. A trip for those who want to discover the main attractions of South Africa and indulge in the thrill of an extension to Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe.

Tour South Africa and Victoria Falls

In short: South Africa and Victoria Falls 12 day group tour.
Itinerary: Cape Town, Mpumalanga, Victoria Falls.
Duration: 12 days – 9 nights
Confirmed Departures
Code: SAARCH1201

Although it is possible to organize your trip to South Africa completely independently, we at Arché Travel always recommend relying on a specialized tour operator to organize your group trip. In this way you will be sure to enjoy a  travel experience in total  safety and reliability, retracing the locations of the best South African films.

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