A ‘lost’ rival to Hollywood: South African feature films and their representation of Africans (1911-1923)

Seminar date: 
12 November 2009
Speaker(s): Neil Parsons

In recent years a previously lost feature film, The Rose of Rhodesia (directed by Harold Shaw) that was made in South Africa in 1918, has been rediscovered in Germany, restored in the Netherlands and shown in Sweden and Italy. My research on the film's origins begs further investigation into the movie industry that flourished in South Africa during the First World War. Shaw was originally engaged by the Schlesinger entertainment group at Killarney (Johannesburg) to make the epic film De Voortrekkers (1916), before breaking away to form his own production company. Most of the approximately 46 fiction films made between 1916 and 1922 imitated overseas models and employed only white actors. Some of them did feature African rural settings with casts of thousands and even had black 'stars' and an all-black cast. Harold Shaw's films were arguably more sympathetic towards Africans as plot protagonists and as performers. Subsequent Schlesinger movies however, even one filmed at Great Zimbabwe, lost their distinctiveness as black actors progressively disappeared from view - and then South Africa's feature-film production collapsed under the weight of competition from Hollywood.

Neil Parsons, Professor of History at the University of Botswana, is a visiting fellow at the African Studies Centre.

More information: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/screeningthepast/