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Laramie Movie Scope:
Amandla: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony

Good music, disorganized documentary

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 24, 2002 -- "Amandla" is a celebration of the music which helped to liberate the black population of South Africa from the oppression of Apartheid, the government's policy of strict racial segregation.

The movie begins and ends with nice bookend shots of the excavation of the grave of activist-singer-songwriter Vuyisile Mini and his reburial. This singer, and many others kept the spirit of revolution alive in South Africa during the lean years of the 1950s, 1960s and beyond. The film uses file footage, stills and interviews to cover such milestones as the 1964 imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the 1976 Soweto uprising in which 575 civilians and children were killed while protesting the nationalization of Afrikaans as the official language, the murder of anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko (he died from injuries sustained while being interrogated by police) in 1977, and the 1994 election which overthrew the white government and put Nelson Mandela in the president's office. The movie talks a lot about freedom fighters and freedom songs. There is a lot of talk about violence, but what is not discussed is how it came about that the government was finally overthrown in a fairly peaceful manner. It looked like it would take a colossal blood bath to overthrow the government, and it didn't happen that way. Sure, a lot of people died to get their freedom, but it was not even in the ballpark of the kind of mass killings there would have been if the overthrow of Apartheid had been violent. Some people even speculated the South African government would use nuclear weapons to maintain white rule. Thank God that did not happen. The story of how that relatively peaceful transition took place will have to be told elsewhere.

There is a fairly good description of the freedom songs, along with archival recordings and recreations and modern concerts. Among the South African musical stars interviewed are Hugh Masekala and Miriam Makeba, who both lived in exile in the United States for many years. Masekala also performs some of the freedom songs in concert. The freedom songs were important, it is argued, not just for keeping people's spirits up, but for communicating news to illiterate people who had limited means to get news in other ways. Underground radio broadcasts were also used to spread resistance news and music. The documentary is not very systematic in its approach to either the music or the history. It is very loosely organized into a sort of chronological order of events. I would have liked to have seen more archival concert footage of the performers mentioned in this film. The music is a force to be reckoned with. Small wonder that people were killed in South Africa just for writing anti-Apartheid songs. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)