Asinamali!, written by Mbongeni Ngema, will be the closing film of the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF). The film will screen at Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Umhlanga at 7 pm on Sunday, July 23 and at 8 pm at the Playhouse the same day.
Ngema occupies a unique space in theatre history and now brings that talent to his first film, based on his seminal work of the same name. It’s a tale filled with immense vitality, sadness and humour, combining exhilarating dance and acting with awe-inspiring choral music.
Inspired by events surrounding the 1983 rent boycott in Lamontville township, Durban, the narrative follows a group of prisoners as they think back on their pasts and the events leading to their arrests. The hardship of prison life is told through the experiences of the inmates, whose lives are made even more difficult by sadistic prison warder Sergeant Mgwaqaza (Boitumelo Chuck Shisana).
At the same time, the prison authorities are under pressure to accommodate Comrade Washington (Ngema), an exiled MK soldier working for Amnesty International, who is running drama workshops with the inmates at the notorious Durban Central Prison. He is thwarted at every turn by Mgwaqaza, who makes it impossible for him to carry out his duties.
Comrade Washington has an additional agenda, to see the love of his life. Her name is Soweto (Danica de la Rey) and she languishes in the Female Section of the prison, soon to be transferred to death row in Pretoria for her MK cross-border activities.
Washington believes in the power of music and theatre to transform the lives of people: the political activists, the criminals and even the hardened servants of the apartheid regime.
Through sheer determination he outsmarts the prison authorities, manipulating those around him into allowing him to create a play which depicts how they came to land in prison. It represents triumph over adversity, with the theatrical musical explosion becoming their ticket to freedom.
Produced by Christianne Bennetto and Oscar-nominated Darrel James Roodt, the film version of this seminal musical has Ngema at the helm of a production to which he has dedicated many years of his life. The film’s executive producer, David Dison, first worked on Asinamali with Ngema when it was a stage play at the Market Theatre. Together, they now bring this inspiring story to the big screen, and a wider audience.