Documentary

Black Love is a way to survive as black people, says director Lebogang Rasethaba

Palesa Buyeye talks to Lebogang Rasethaba about his latest thought-provoking documentary, 'The People versus The People'

14 July 2019 - 00:07 By Palesa Buyeye
Lebogang Rasethaba's latest film is titled 'The People versus The People'.
Lebogang Rasethaba's latest film is titled 'The People versus The People'.
Image: Alon Skuy

While superhero movies are big business these days - this May, Avengers: Endgame became the first film ever to surpass $1bn in its opening weekend - there is something truly special about the real human interactions and personal narratives one finds in documentaries.

My conviction about this has been so strong that I wanted to be part of a documentary myself. Enter MTV's The People versus The People, a film by Lebogang Rasethaba.

Its focus is on oppressed groups - how members internalise their oppression, and engage in toxic behaviour towards each other, such as social-media bullying. It also explores low self-esteem and mental illness as a result of racism, patriarchy and classism, and puts forward the idea of unapologetic Black Love as an instrument for healing.

But what does that mean? I ask Rasethaba, "What is Black Love to you?"

"It means different things every time I think about it," he says. "It means a way to survive as black people.

"Some days it's an emotion, some days it's a tool, some days it's a way of navigating the world. Depending on what I need as an individual on that particular day is what Black Love will be for me."

Rasethaba directed thought-provoking films such as The People versus The Rainbow Nation, The People versus Patriarchy, and Future Sounds of Mzansi. There is a sense of optimism in his storytelling, which he says is about the portrayal of truth.

"It's less important for me to assert my sense of truth and more important to me to show different people's truth and different variations of truth.

"As a documentary filmmaker I have to listen to the collective soul of our existence because it tells you what film to make and when to make it. I make films based on the demands of society and what my conscience demands of me."

At the core, 'The People versus The People' should feel like healing
Lebogang Rasethaba

For my own part, I am both in the audience and in the film. In it, I speak about my struggles with depression and anxiety and how these mental illnesses are not really recognised in the black community. After shooting, I feared that my truth would be exploited or that I would be portrayed in a negative light. Instead, I tell him, "I felt heard, seen and represented!" He chuckles.

"At the core, the film should feel like healing," he says.

The Soweto-born director grew up in Joburg and has often captured the nuances of the city and its people.

Of his earlier films, he says, "I spent so much time looking at the mistakes that I sometimes forgot about the things that were good about [them]. In this film, all I see is the good."

The film is broken into five chapters depicting various round-table sessions, with young scholars, artists, writers and everyday people discussing social issues, traumas, conflict, self-worth and mental illness within the black community.

It is no accident that the film's speakers are identified only by name, and not by what they do. As Rasethaba explains, "People think profession is some kind of social indicator for intelligence, which is false. Everybody was given the opportunity to be as smart as what they were saying.

"This film is very earnest and sincere. You can see that people say things that they really mean. Being 'woke' was a very important part of the previous two films. The most important thing about this film is being human."

• 'The People Versus The People' will be in selected cinemas from July 18-20.


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