The inaugural parliamentary Oscars
For too long, South Africa’s greatest and most talented performers have been denied the recognition they deserve. It is time for our president to say, ‘Never Again!’, and put a stop to this injustice.
Dear Mr President,
I trust this email finds you vaccinated.
Due to various cosmic events, I recently awoke to my unique psychic abilities. I won’t waste your precious presidential time by going too deep into that. I have described this uniquely vibrational phase in my life elsewhere in these pages, where I shared the epiphanic life moment when I was called to practice numerology through baptism by four. I’d love for you to read it when you have a moment.
Mr President, since then, the epiphanies have continued. Most recently, I have discovered a revolutionary mindfulness technique that harnesses the higher vibrational power of the moon above us. I have learnt to align my thinking process with its cycles for maximum effect. To put it simply, I now limit all my thinking to full moon days. I have found that by practising absolutely zero thought during lesser moons, be it crescent or half, I not only experience more intense and greater thoughts during the full moon period, I have also attained the kind of peace that even the most enlightened bodhisattva can only dream of.
All this peace, while living in 2021 South Africa: call it extreme mindfulness.
This leads to the reason for my letter. As the moon filled to the brim on the eve of South Africa’s annual Freedom Day, I dove deep into my monthly day of thought. I came across your heartfelt congratulatory letter to the team behind the Oscar-winning South African documentary, My Octopus Teacher. Right there and then, I had what I believe to be my greatest and possibly most consequential thought this year: The Parliamentary Oscars.
Hear me out, Mr President.
Reports of your struggles with parliamentarians and other cogs in the governing machine abound. It seems much has spiralled out of control. But I have come to realise that part of the problem with 21st century politics is that we hang on to antiquated criteria when we judge the performance of politicians. We judge them on governing, transformation, and social change, as if that’s what got them there. We judge them on numbers and results, as if they were a bunch of corporate clones jonesing for a high score on their annual performance review.
I believe we should be judging them on criteria closer to their true talent – the performing arts. It is time, Mr President, to reward them for the superior storytellers and actors they are. After all, that storytelling and acting ability, Mr President, is the talent that got many of them where they are.
Some of the best thespian talent our country has to offer is right under your presidential nose. Just take a look at the incredible range of an actor such as Julius Malema. Remember some of his earlier work, when he dropped one of the most iconic lines back in the 2008 movie, To Die For, To Kill For: “We are prepared to die for Zuma. We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.” Goosebumps! Such great, spine-chilling delivery.
And just a few years later, when he took on the roles of lead actor and director of the sequel, the 2014 blockbuster, #PayBacktheMoney, I was totally gripped by his performance. And I hear he is working on a third and final entry to this most iconic trilogy, High teas and high jinks: The prodigal son returns, let’s dance like we did last Zuma. I absolutely cannot wait!
The range this man has! I even love some of his recent experimental stuff. I remember the week his short film, The Clicks Saga, came out. He had the nation and the Twitterati in a tizz. I recall the exact way he’d whipped the nation to go see the flick at a Clicks near you; I was somewhere in the Eastern Cape, Fort Beaufort to be specific, queuing at the Clicks pharmacy for my prescription, along with tens of other South Africans from surrounding villages; not a Dischem in sight for hundreds of kays around us.
His performance in that role really had me contemplating how many days I could skip before refilling my life-saving prescription. He gave us such challenging and engaging material. Mr President, hold the Bell’s, make the parliamentary Oscars a reality and give this man his well-deserved Best Actor Oscar. Do not do to him what they did to Leo.
Admittedly, not all are as talented. I must confess, in loving compassion, that I do find the actor John Steenhuisen’s screen performance somewhat lacking. But I’m sure that should he ever choose to finally pursue a tertiary education, there’s a university drama course out there that could help him realise his full potential. But for now, I do find his performance to be a bit one-dimensional and, oddly enough, a bit like my favourite chardonnay: creamy, rich, white and wooded. Sometimes it’s almost like there’s a very talented ventriloquist’s hand at work behind him.
Speaking of Helen, now there’s a truly strong Best Actress contender. Take a seat Meryl Streep and let our Helen Zille show you how to truly embody a character. I am as fascinated as anybody with her current role as Stay-Woke-Go-Broke-Helen; and I was intrigued by her successful stint as a YouTube sensation on her show Tea with Helen, which came long before Tea with Zuma, by the way, but Amandla-Helen, circa 2009, remains my favourite of her roles.
The way she toyi-toyi’d into the hearts of South African audiences of all races, and espoused the ideals that would bring more young black performers into her troupe, seemed to usher in the era of inclusion in the performing arts. What an actress! The woman literally wore a doek, a dashiki, spoke isiXhosa, and literally stirred those black pots with three legs over an open fire. This is method acting of the highest order. In those days, who could imagine she would be just as convincing in a later role as Imperialism-Gave-Africans-Life-Helen? While we wait for that parliamentary Oscar, I suggest we all stand and give this woman the ovation she deserves.
It would be remiss of me, Mr President, if I didn’t remind you of her selflessness, such as when she championed then little-known preacher, and Best Supporting Actor in my opinion, Pastor Mmusi Maimane. This guy really took on his role in her performance troupe fabulously. Sometimes, when I find myself Netflixed out and in need of fine South African fiction, I go on over to YouTube and stream some of his greatest performances.
Who can forget his 2014 film, ANC Ayisafani? When you have a moment, Mr President, please do watch it. Then there was 2015’s seminal Broken Man Broken Society – he was so good in that role I almost thought the flick would end with him fixing said broken man and broken society. Little did I know about the coming twists in the final act. I’m keeping my eye on this one. With the right kind of casting, there may yet be a Best Actor nomination in his future.
But for now, the competition in that category is simply much stronger. Even though I think Julius earned it, sometimes I wonder if the great actor Ace Magashule is not more deserving. Some of his latest stuff is just mind-blowing. I’m sure you’ve seen his appearance in season two of the Fees Must Fall: Fire Returns series. Engaging stuff, as he takes on the role of championing the right to free education for the country’s youth. It’s hard to believe this is the same actor who convincingly played the role of the corrupt thug who used his government position to steal money from the parents of these students and the poorest of the poor just a few years ago. What a guy! Our very own RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta! Also Ace, if you’re reading this, please respond to that email I sent you a coupla moons ago.
Then there’s the legendary Minister Fikile Mbalula in his current role as the country’s Minister of Transport. He has previously also played the roles of Minister and Deputy Minister of Police, as well as Minister of Sports and Recreation. Fikile Mbalula. A Minister. Police, transport, sports and recreation. Lit. Never mind a golden statue, here’s a Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award for you, sir. You’ve earned it.
I have to say that one day, I would love to see Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s audition tape for his role as Minister of Arts and Culture, and more recently, of Sports as well. It must have been one hell of an audition. The way he plays a baddie makes him one of my favourite all-time screen and stage villains.
I love the way he captures the inner complexity of a failed actor who absolutely hates all other performers and the creative industry that supports them, and then works his way to head up said industry so that he can squeeze the last breath out of it and totally destroy the country’s sense of creative opportunity and heritage for generations to come. What an actor! I say we give this one a new category of Oscar: the Oscar Pistorius Lifetime Achievement Award.
But I suppose the traditional Lifetime Achievement Award must go to the multi-hyphenate actor-director – the actor’s actor, the director’s director, the Zoomer’s Zuma – none other than Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. In my eyes, this guy also deserves Best Actor for his many convincing roles. Remember when he played an accused rapist? It was so engrossing. What a talent! Not to mention his directorial work. His guptastic biblical epic, Ten Commandments of Atul, Ajay and Rajesh, must at the very least surely be one of the strongest contenders in the “International Feature Film” category.
I’m even loving the work Zuma has been putting into preparing for this new monk-on-a-vow-of-silence role which he seems to be carefully refining. Had he been allowed to finish making it as he intended, I still wonder to this day what might have become of South Africa: The Movie, the project you eventually took over and which looks to be more expensive than Titanic. Sometimes, when I yearn for his darker directorial take, I step into the shower, stand under the water, and imagine it has anti-viral properties as Mshini Wam streams in the background.
It is so important to give people flowers while they can still smell them, Mr President. I have no doubt Malusi Gigaba would still be creating great work had the Parliamentary Oscar for the “Live Action Short Film” category been around when he released his untitled 2018 short, unofficially known in some circles as “Rock out with my ***k out”. What a performance that was! He achieved the kind of reach and engagement that social media directors around the world can only dream of.
Had Malema and company been given their award for Best Costume Design back when they introduced labour chic to parliament in the form of red overalls, perhaps they would have turned down their roles in that poorly produced VBS movie. I still remember the first time I saw that costume design. I was so moved that I found myself daydreaming of making a career change towards a hands-on occupation that would require a red overall. This was testament to their creativity because, ordinarily, like in that tik-tok clip, I do not dream of labour.
As the moon begins to wane, I find I have almost squandered my monthly thought quota and I need to wrap this up. And I am sure you have much to attend to, Mr President. But I can not wrap things up without pitching you what I think is the most important award of the evening, the Best Director Oscar, which, Mr President, I would like to propose be awarded to you.
When you took on this project from the last guy, I was worried that it was going to be typical “happy ending” Hollywood fare. I think back then its working title was Ramaphoria. It turns out I didn’t need to worry.
Under your watch, this movie is serving amazingly rich complex storylines. While I’m a big fan of Mr Zuma’s work, at times I found his style to be a bit on the nose when it comes to exploring darker themes, whereas I’m finding your approach to be far more nuanced.
Your cast of complex anti-heroes has given us surprisingly low lows, and incredibly enough, even lower highs. I’ve been lucky enough to see the early cuts of your masterpiece, and I must say that it has some of the best twists since it turned out that Brad Pitt was Ed Norton in Fight Club – in fact, some twists are even better than “I see dead people”.
Bravo Mr President, I cannot wait to see your final director’s cut. I expect it’s going to be an edge-of-your-seat, heart-stopping, heart-breaking, genre-defying tearjerker. Congratulations to your cast and crew.
Please do take my advice and make parliamentary Oscars a thing, because while you’re busy congratulating other filmmakers for their foreign awards, the talent right under your nose is looking to you for validation of their natural storytelling talents, and they ain’t getting any.
No wonder so many just choose to plunder and squander instead. DM/ML
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.