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With ‘Kalushi,’ South Africans finally get to portray themselves in a film about the anti-apartheid

One of the most unique features of a new South African biopic about an anti-apartheid hero earning accolades worldwide is the nationality of the people behind and in front of the camera: for a change, they’re South African.

Kalushi portrays the true story of Solomon Mahlangu, a 19-year-old hawker from Mamelodi, a large township just outside of Pretoria, who joined the South African liberation movement after being brutally beaten by apartheid police in 1976. The film tracks Mahlangu’s return to Johannesburg after training as a freedom fighter in Angola and his subsequent trial for a murder he did not commit. He was executed by hanging for the murder in 1979.

The film stars an entirely South African cast. That distinguishes it from a slate of international biopics in which national heroes were portrayed by foreigners like Morgan Freeman, Idris Elba, and Denzel Washington (the efforts of foreign actors to master South African accents is a source of ongoing entertainment in the country). The dialogue in Kalushi jumps between English, Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and other dialects heard throughout South Africa, which has 11 official languages and where many locals converse in two or three.


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