South Africa has a long history of making films based on apartheid. A Million Colours is no exception. Like those before it, the film is inspired by astonishing true events. The leads here are based on Muntu Ndebe and Norman Knox, stars of the 1976 classic e’Lollipop, who were separated by the government-enforced system. The emotionally charged A Million Colours will leave audiences both uplifted and sad as it explores a past which includes the Soweto protests that most South Africans would prefer to forget. And even though it prefers to make us believe that it’s a romantic story, at heart it’s still a historical piece.
“Not another white guilty apartheid movie!” some might cry. But there is something slightly more fresh and exciting at work in A Million Colours. For once there is a film that shows the struggle of both white and black people during Apartheid equally. The film moves away from pigeon-holing “whites” as the baddies and “blacks” as the goodies. Instead, here we see black on black crime and white supremacists manipulating peace-loving whites. And even though South Africa has come a long way since the events of the film and racism is still rife today, there is hope – a point director Peter Bishai tries to highlight in the film. “One day we will not see black and white, but a million colours.”
It all begins in Soweto in 1986, a historic period for South Africans. Violence policeman chase down a young man named Muntu. Before they are able to hand out his beating, he tricks them and disappears into the bush. We discover that just ten years earlier, Muntu was a famous child actor, starring in critically acclaimed e’Lollipop. Ndebe and his on-screen buddy, Norman Knox, are a famous pair, but unfortunately, struggle with the realities of their friendship off screen. Muntu is not welcomed into Norman’s world, nor is Norman in Muntu’s. When Muntu falls helplessly in love with a Sabela, a woman promised to marry an old Zulu chief, things become even more complicated. But it’s the events of June 16th 1976 that finally separate all three parties from each other – Muntu ends up in the apartheid resistance, Norman is forced into the army and Sabela is married off to the chief. Despite the poor circumstances Muntu vows to return to Sabela no matter what.
The cast deserves praise for their gritty and thoughtful performances, especially Wandile Molebatsi and isiZulu speaking Jason Hartman (of Idols fame). Together with a compelling story and interesting characters, A Million Colours proves to be both informative and moving. But despite all the praise, the film deserved a much shorter cut – removing a number of the scenes that dampen the lead’s amiability.
Director/screenwriter Peter Bishai calls the film “a cross between Slumdog Millionaire and Romeo & Juliet”. Rightfully so, but it still feels less rewarding than both. It deserves a viewing, but you’ll feel slightly let down with the final results.