When Cape Town-based filmmakers Kelly-Even Koopman and Sarah Summers released the first episode of their six-part documentary web series, "Coloured Mentality", they did not anticipate the response they received. Trying to answer the question "what is a coloured?", Koopman and Summers embarked on a creative journey that sought to unpack coloured racial identity in South Africa — both within a contemporary and historical context. The project has seen the two filmmakers collaborate with local actors, musicians, writers and radio personalities to take a personal and critical look at what it means to be coloured in a post-apartheid South Africa.
"We have tried to present a range of perspectives that inspire thoughtful conversation about an identity we hold proudly," the partners said on the web series' Facebook page. "We reject the stereotypes that have been placed on us and aspire rather to re-imagine what it means to be coloured". They are careful to remind viewers that they have set out to start a conversation, not to provide definitive answers on the subject — and it seems they have, judging from the buzz the series is experiencing on social media platforms.
In what's more than just a creative or cultural exploration, Koopman and Summers used the web series as part of their preparation for the annual Indigenous Liberation Walk on February 18 that will see them travel the 1000km from Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape to the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town by March 1. They will join indigenous rights activists in an effort to highlight the lack of recognition and rights for the Khoisan and Bushman people in South Africa, stopping on their route "to teach communities about Khoi heritage", the couple told ELLE South Africa. The walk is also intended to lobby the South African government to ratify the UN Bill of Indigenous Rights, which the country signed in 2007. Summers and Koopman describe the walk as an "important spiritual quest" for the activists, saying that it is "a pursuit to revitalise the ancient grid that connects communities of indigenous ancestry to the land, the culture and to each other".
Describing their own identities as "complex", Summers and Koopman have set out on a mission to cross the chasm that exists between their own history, culture, privilege and how it all falls into place within their "young, urban lifestyles". The quest to understand and reimagine this dichotomy sits at the heart of the "Coloured Mentality" series.
They have labeled the conversation as one that aims to "deconstruct what we have been taught to believe" — both about themselves as coloured people and about where and how they fit into the multi-faceted South African social landscape. Their mechanism for navigating what can often be tough terrain in the series' first episode — which leads simply with the question, "what is coloured?" — is through straightforward and honest responses from coloured South Africans, including the likes of actors Irshaad Ally, Lee-ann van Rooi, Jill Levenberg, Cedwyn Joel and Brendon Daniels; radio personality Sherlin Barends; rapper Jitsvingerl and comedian Lekker Lollas (real name Loren Loubser). In the episode, these prominent coloured personalities share their personal experiences and feelings around the term "coloured", what it means in an ever-changing social setting in South Africa.
"I'm quite reluctant to use that term 'mixed' because that implies that other races are pure," says Levenberg in the opening scenes of the episode. "I almost feel embarrassed to say that for the longest time, I did not want to be associated with that term," says Barends. That's a feeling I have not only experienced, but grappled with as a young coloured South African woman. Hearing her say that, mirroring a usually private and unspoken internal struggle, immediately highlighted the importance of a series like this.
The episode resonated with followers on Twitter who, just days after it first aired on 12 January 2017, took to the social network to thank the filmmakers and participants for their work.
Glad the first episode has already peaked your interest. https://t.co/rRsAJHQ4ju— Coloured Mentality (@ClrdMentality) January 16, 2017
we simply don't have the luxury of one homogenising discourse in a community this fluid and complex— bushie boy strut (@G1NO) January 15, 2017
I enjoyed this. For a very long time, I often tried to exclude or separate myself from the coloured community. @ClrdMentality— magic lyk liewehekse (@KirstySwiss) January 12, 2017
Speaking to Design Indaba about her hopes for the impact that the series will have on South Africans, Koopman said that she hopes it will become a space "where we engage with different facets of a debate that really needs to be interrogated on all levels".
Watch the first episode of "Coloured Mentality" here:
Can This Web Series Finally Capture What Coloured Identity Means? We Hope So.