Redeeming the Gangster: Tsotsi and Boy Called Twist

Dr Lesley Glen Marx
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Nearly twenty years ago, two South Africans managed to raise funds and subvert the surveillance of the apartheid government in order to make a film that, for many years, could be seen only on alternative and informal circuits. The film was called Mapantsula (directed by Oliver Schmitz, co-written by Schmitz and lead actor Thomas Mogotlane,1988) and came to be highly regarded, both for its account of a gangster gaining political consciousness and for its skilled cinematic storytelling. The cost of the gangster’s newfound political commitment was, implicitly in this film, death at the hands of the police. More recently, Boy Called Twist (2004), adapted from Dickens’s novel by Tim Greene, and the Academy-award-winning Tsotsi (2005), adapted from Athol Fugard’s novel by Gavin Hood, have presented stories of gangsters against the post-apartheid landscape of South Africa. The nature of redemption for the protagonists takes colour from an attempt -- partly through narrative, partly through compelling filmic aesthetics -- to sustain the hope of a new world, a new South Africa, in spite of poverty, disease, violence, and class stratification. The paper will explore the two films’ approach both to adaptation and to genre and contextualise these approaches in terms of the current social crises faced in the country.

Keywords: South African Film, Adaptation, Gangster Films, Violence, Aesthetics
Stream: Analysing Artforms
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr Lesley Glen Marx

Associate Professor, Department of English and
Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Lesley Marx has taught at the University of Cape Town since the eighties, in the English department and in the new Centre for Film and Media Studies, which she founded and of which she was the inaugural director. Her main teaching and research interests are in American literature (especially from the South), comparative studies in American and South African history and culture, film adaptation and themes of place, space, belonging, dispossession and diaspora. She is currently working on a book on South African film adaptations. Among her publications is a book on American writer John Hawkes, and several articles on South African film.

Ref: A06P0510