Terry Phetho at the 2015 International Emmy Awards
Terry Phetho at the 2015 International Emmy Awards ceremony in New York. (Photo: Terry Phetho on Facebook)

With the continuing "paleness" of the Oscars a trending topic in the lead-up to the 2016 Academy Awards, Terry Pheto - who played one of the leads in South African Oscar-winning film Tsotsi - says it's also time for the local industry to reflect on transformation.

Pheto, whose star-studded local and international career as actress, brand ambassador and film producer began in Soweto, told Eyewitness News last week that there was still more work to be done on transforming South Africa's film industry.

"We don't want Tsotsi to be the only success," Pheto said. "We want more films to know success and win foreign film Oscars - but more than that, and win best picture as well.

"For me, it says that we fall under that diversity that everyone is seeking as Africans and foreigners in Hollywood."

All-white Oscar nominations list

Idris Elba in 'Beasts of No Nation'
Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. (Image: Netflix)

The latest Oscars controversy blew up on 14 January, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced an Oscar nominations list in which, for the second year running, all 20 actors nominated were white.

Among the black actors snubbed by the Academy were:

  • Idris Elba, who earned rave reviews and a Golden Globe nomination for his role as an African warlord in Beasts of No Nation.
  • Michael B Jordan, who transformed himself physically in order to play a professional boxer in the Rocky reboot Creed, but was ignored even as Sylvester Stallone scored a nomination for his role in the same movie.
  • Will Smith, who received a Golden Globes nomination for his role as the pathologist who uncovered an "inconvenient truth" about brain damage among pro American football players in Concussion.

Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, director Spike Lee and others have said they will not be attending the awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on 28 February, while at least one group of activists - the National Action Network - has called for a boycott in protest.

It's a broader issue: Smith, Obama

Will Smith in Concussion
Will Smith in Concussion. (Photo: Concussion on Facebook)

The Academy, meanwhile, has been engaged in damage control since 14 January. On 23 January it announced measures to diversify its membership, and on 29 January it announced a lineup of awards ceremony presenters with a strong mix of black and minority performers and celebrities.

Interviewed by the BBC following the Academy's latest announcement, Will Smith said the issue, as he saw it, was broader than race.

"This has nothing to do with me or awards," Smith said. "That's a really frivolous reason for me to put my hand up and make a statement. For me, this is more about the idea of diversity and inclusion."

US President Barack Obama, drawn into commenting on the issue during an interview on healthcare on 28 January, made essentially the same comment as Smith, saying the Oscars diversity debate was an expression of a broader issue.

"Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?" Obama asked.

He then followed up with a comment that would resonate with those who are working on the ongoing transformation of South Africa's film industry, saying: "I think that when everyone's story is told, then that makes for better art."

South Africa: where is our 'Sollywood'?

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa. (Photo: GCIS)

In October last year, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said that growing South Africa's film industry needed to extend beyond supporting increased production of local content to finding ways of improving the marketing and distribution of this content.

The minister was addressing a meeting of industry stakeholders in Johannesburg, prompted by the decision of local exhibitors to reduce the number of screens showing homegrown romantic comedy Tell Me Sweet Something just two weeks after opening, despite its strong showing.

Mthethwa said there was no doubt that local content had proven its popularity, especially with South African television audiences.

Yet while efforts had been made to transform the industry and also to reflect South African demographics through supportive grants especially to black filmmakers, "the plight of independent filmmakers, the need for better funding and better distribution models, and further work on audience development, need be prioritized", he said.

African content 'popular, resilient, resonant'

"We have seen the global might of Hollywood's film distribution to the international market, which surpasses the resources of our local film industry. Yet we have also witnessed the growth spurt of Bollywood and, closer to home, the unstoppable advances of Nollywood. Where is our 'Sollywood'?"

A month later, addressing a gala dinner at African TV content market Discop Africa Johannesburg, the minister said that Africa would soon be the world's fastest growing digital entertainment marketplace after China.

"There is rapidly growing advertising budgets and rising disposable income all across the continent," he noted, adding: "Given Africa's digital switchover, Africa's television ecosystems present a wealth of opportunities for growth."

This growth, Mthethwa said, made the creation and distribution of new African stories more important than ever before.

"We have grown weary of news and stories that objectify us but do not empower us," he said. "This is not to say that we want to view ourselves through rose-tinted spectacles … But what we do want is content that allows us to see the world from where we see it. Local content on the African continent has proven itself to be popular and resilient, and it resonates with audiences."

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission