I’ve just discovered a gem that brought tears of laughter (and a few of regret) to my eyes.
If you want to understand South Africa and its various racial groups and be thoroughly entertained in the process, the absolute best way is to watch White Wedding. You can get it on Amazon (see insert) and it’s also available on Netflix.
Whatever misgivings you might have about South Africa and its future, you will come away from this movie with pure delight in the Rainbow Nation, in its many cultures, and in the way they intersect with each other. If you’ve ever lived in South Africa, you’ll be telling your TV not once but repeatedly that “that’s exactly how it is!”
[Spoiler alert: I don’t think I’m giving away much as the end is fairly predictable, but if you’re going to watch it and don’t want any plot lines, you might want to stop reading here].
The plot is perhaps rather typical romantic comedy material, but with a good helping of the two things I love most about South Africa: The sweeping landscapes, and the quirky sense of humor.
The story revolves around a road trip a soon-to-be-married man undertakes from Durban to Cape Town where he is to meet his Xhosa bride. He is accompanied by his best man and later joined by a white Englishwoman hitching a ride, and of course things end up going awfully wrong, from getting lost somewhere in the Eastern Cape to crashing in a ditch and almost being lynched by a group of Boers. The thing is, none of this seems contrived. When they get to a road sign with arrows to the next town pointing in both directions, you nod knowingly. That’s Africa. When they are made to wait the whole night for the grandma they’re supposed to pick up, only to be told next morning that she won’t be coming but is sending a goat with you instead, you sigh. You’ve been on exasperating errands just like that, driving through townships and waiting for people who weren’t there, and there were always plenty of goats (though, I admit, not IN my car). When the money for the wedding dress hasn’t arrived although it was transferred days ago, you will cry out Eish in sympathy. Been there, done that.
What’s done very well is the blending of all the different languages – Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English – with the necessary subtitles. I was surprised how much Zulu and Afrikaans I could actually pick up, though I admit in the case of Zulu that is because it is so heavily interspersed with English expressions. In fact, the wealth of languages (no less than eleven official ones) and resulting cultural diversity is one of the true gems of life in South Africa. Diversity is such an overused term here, sometimes standing in as the politically correct cover-up for something more sinister, but as I was watching White Wedding I realized that South Africa is one of the few places where the true value of cultural and racial diversity is on everyday display. Much like the U.S., South Africa is an immigrant’s country, but unlike the U.S., it’s no melting pot. Second generation Americans typically sound very much the same as everyone else, but in South Africa, you get a plethora of different English accents, cultivated over generations, depending on whether you’re talking to a Cape Coloured or an Indian from Durban, for instance.
Making fun of everyone’s cultural quirks makes for a lot of good late night comedy. Google Trevor Noah and you will know what I mean.
But first, watch White Wedding.