“Carried Us Away in Captivity:” The Oscar, the Tsotsi, and the Contender

  • D Lehman


Tsotsi’s surprise Oscar for best foreign language film at the 2006 Academy
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the resulting critical attention it
brought to South African cinema prepared the stage for Ralph Ziman’s
Jerusalema (2008), a visual retake of Johannesburg outlaw culture that
draws heavily on the complex imagery of Psalm 137 and recasts Hillbrow as
the new fallen city on a hill. Reviews of Ziman’s film in Variety, Screen
Daily, and Sight & Sound were quick to link the two films, and like Gavin
Hood’s Tsotsi, Ziman’s Jerusalema was nominated by the National Film and
Video Foundation of South Africa for a foreign language Oscar. Perhaps
because it did not offer Western tastemakers as palatable a menu of South
African forgiveness and reconciliation (or perhaps because it simply was not
as good), Jerusalema not only did not bring Oscar’s golden statue back to
South Africa, but indeed did not make the cut of five foreign language
finalists at the 2009 Academy Award ceremonies. Ironically, that Hollywood
snub may have bolstered Jerusalema’s street credibility, mirroring the film’s
worldly wise narration as well as its frequent scripted potshots at
establishment cinema.

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eISSN: 0376-8902