Hailed as a breakthrough for indigenous South African languages, Durban movie producer Anant Singh's Yesterday is shot entirely in Zulu, with English subtitles.
Directed by Darrel Roodt and starring Leleti Khumalo, the film - which was shot in the Bergville area of KwaZulu-Natal - tells the story of a young HIV-positive mother, named Yesterday, whose migrant mineworker husband refuses to accept the situation.
Left to fend for herself and her young daughter, played by Johannesburg newcomer Lihle Mvelase, Yesterday's dream is to live long enough to see her child go to school.
Read some reviews of Yesterday here.
An in depth look at Yesterday...
HER name is Yesterday because her father felt that things were better yesterday than today.
Too bleak for your liking? But that’s reality for the young mother who discovered that she had HIV.
Billed as the first international film in the Zulu language with English subtitles, Yesterday was shown in a special screening last Wednesday in Bangkok in conjunction with the 15th International AIDS Conference.
Despite the tagline that “love has the power to change our tomorrows”, you wish that yesterday will come once again for the protagonist who has seen beauty in those bygone days before the infection.
Leleti Khumalo who plays the title role in Yesterday.
But thankfully, director Darrell James Roodt went easy on the melodrama and Yesterday, played by Leleti Khumalo (of Sarafina! fame) portrayed a simple, courageous woman without self-pity.
The movie, shot in South Africa, tells of Yesterday’s twice failed attempts to see a doctor for her persistent cough despite having to walk two hours from her remote village of Rooihoek to the clinic. There is always a long queue but there are only so many patients that the doctor could attend to.
Finally, a kind village teacher paid for a taxi so that Yesterday could reach the clinic early and be among the first to see the doctor.
This, ironically, is the start of an even longer bitter journey for Yesterday as she discovers her condition, her husband’s brutal response, the stigma, and eventual widowhood when her husband dies of AIDS.
Other than the friendship of the village teacher, Yesterday’s source of strength is her young daughter Beauty.
When the doctor commented one day about Yesterday’s remarkable well-being, she replied: “Until my daughter goes to school, I will not die.”
This is a contrast to the first time when she finds out about her infection. Then, she had asked the doctor sadly: “Am I going to stop living?”
The movie is also about forgive-ness. Yesterday stays by her husband’s bedside throughout his final days despite what he has done to her.
At his deathbed, the man calls out for Beauty. “It’s Yesterday,” his wife replies. That perhaps is one of the most poignant moments in the movie.
The movie doesn’t preach. Neither does it speak of the good old days. It is just a simple story of a young mother’s triumph in her losing battle against AIDS.
During a press conference after the movie screening, Khumalo explained that “in Zulu culture, we forgive a lot.”
“Yesterday was mostly alone in the village. Maybe she even had to bury her husband herself as the villagers didn’t want to have anything to do with him,” she said.
The actress, in an interview published by South Africa’s Sunday Times on June 6, remarked that this was the first time she had acted in Zulu and she loved the experience.
“The fact that it was shot in KwaZulu-Natal, my home, made it easy and exciting for me.”
Khumalo, 34, also reportedly said that she had much in common with her character.
“She is a woman married into a rural family with many challenges. I am married into a traditional family so I know some of her challenges,” said the South African actress who played Sarafina in the musical and in which she was nominated for a Tony award for best actress in recognition of her Broadway effort.
The lovely actress will soon be seen in Hotel Rwanda with Nick Nolte.
Roodt, when asked during the press conference why Beauty was not tested for HIV in the movie, explained that he did not want to over elaborate on anything. Neither did he want the movie to dwell on how Khumalo’s husband, a miner who works far away from home, was infected in the first place.
“It’s not a documentary. I try to avoid as much sentimentality as possible. We kept it simple, besides showing how lonely Yesterday is, and her desolation,” he said of the movie that was shot within a month last October in central Eastern South Africa.
However, one criticism which surfaced about the movie on the Internet is that the film, ironically, perpetuates social stigma when it showed scenes of villagers wanting to get rid of the sick couple.
Yesterday is supported by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as part of an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign.
Producer Anant Singh, who was present in Bangkok, said the film will be released in South Africa on Aug 20.
“We are also planning for theatrical release in the United States,” he said, adding that the Bangkok screening was the first time outside of South Africa after its outing at the 25th Durban International Film Festival last month.
Anant and Roodt have worked on several anti-apartheid films like Sarafina! (starring Whoopi Goldberg, 1992) and Cry, the Beloved Country (starring James Earl Jones, 1995).
The producer’s next project is Long Walk to Freedom with Morgan Freeman.