The time has just past midnight so actually it is a Saturday morning. There’s a sound of helicopter roaming the skies probably looking for a stolen car. A lot of them find their way to my hood; I even know one of the hijackers. He lives a few houses away from my grandmother’s house; I grew up with him, he was friends with my older brother and now he is a gangster who does not harm you if he knows you and I guess that is how my car and I are safe.
Anyway last week Friday I went to see a queer movie title While You Weren’t Looking, it’s quite a long title and one I did not find connected with the film. There are many plot lines to it. Firstly there’s an affluent lesbian couple going through a crisis in their marriage (of course the butch one has to be the one who cheats), secondly there’s their adopted daughter who finds herself falling for a lesbian (Shado) whom she mistook to be a man and even though she learns of her true gender she still pursues the relationship and lastly there’s an upper middle class black man hiding the secret of his gay past from his wife and teenage son. All these stories take place in Cape Town and all characters are linked to each other through some peripheral human links which focus on queerness of each individual.
The characters much like South Africa are diverse and their back stories are rich. My attention was focused on Ayanda (who is the adopted daughter) and Shado’s relationship. I believe their story alone could have been the sole driver of the whole movie. I wanted progression from all characters but mostly from them two. Ayanda grew up in a liberated house composing of two mothers who give her everything she wants and on her eighteenth birthday she decides she want to research her roots, coincidentally on her birthday night she kisses Shado whom she thought was a man and this meeting leads to her going to the townships of Cape Town where Shado resides. I don’t understand why she going to the townships is seen as going back to one’s roots. Anyway with Shado’s grandmother and cousin gone they have the house to themselves and they proceed to have some hot lesbian sex. After their romp, whilst sticky and wet, Shado warns Ayanda not to fall in love with her; I don’t know why maybe it’s that hardcore exterior that masculine presenting lesbians like to present.
In the early morning while in each other’s warm embrace Ayanda and Shado are violently woken up by some gangsters who are linked to Ayanda’s cousin; on realising that the two were having hot lesbian sex the previous night one of the gangsters decides to rape Shado but luckily his mate stops him because they just want the money and so they take all of Ayanda’s possessions because they actually have value unlike Shado’s. Ayanda is clearly traumatised by this event and puts on some of Shado’s clothes, she and Shado decide that they will never see each other again.
I believe this story is pivotal to young queer people, to be strong and fervent in their lives despite the barriers that exist; Ayanda and Shado’s story offers no hope.
It has the typical stifling and oppressive tone so popular in Cape Town, you stay in your lane and I’ll stay in mine. I believe Ayanda and Shado’s story could have been told a là Blue is the Warmest Colour because their barriers are barriers that take time to break down, barriers that are only hard to break down because of classism and society’s perspective on queer people. Yes Shado cannot offer Ayanda any security be it financial or physical or even emotional but love is not that simple and the two obviously have a connection, a chemistry unparalleled to Ayanda’s former boyfriend.
It would have been interesting to see Ayanda and Shado grow closer or apart in their relationship over the years be it three, five, seven or even ten years. To see them navigate the barriers in their lives, to see them move on from the trauma that happened in the morning, to see the reactions of Ayanda’s mothers to their daughter suddenly becoming one of them, to see if Ayanda would wafer once realising that actually being lesbian has dire consequences if one is within a certain class, that lesbianism is not a social experiment and Shado’s growth is important too.
I think maybe I might be asking for too much. I believe in fairies and God and heaven but reality is hell and the reality is truthfully that’s how stories of same-sex love end up in South Africa. It is too much to bear and those who do are brave and love, for them, love is enough.
The cinema where I watched the movie was in Soweto and there was an impressive number of queer ladies and a few men- I believe this is progress for a South African movie focusing on a taboo subject. I believe to retain these small numbers, to keep them engaged so that they may fish out more numbers of viewers to local content, a little more positivity in the narrative of black characters could be allowed. Black people are more than their poor backgrounds and even the ones who’ve jumped up the economic strata must not be portrayed as solely money hungry individuals whose sole purpose is to ensure they do not slip back into poverty. Black characters choices do not rest solely on economic factors because they do get married, they do have multiple children, they lead homosexual lives and they all strive for a better life even if the circumstances do not allow.
I am not suggesting a total glazing over of the stark issues at hand of the queer black populous, I’m just saying give a little light to Shado.