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I must say I was sorry when I got to the 10th and last episode of "Shaka Zulu". I totally agree with the review by njmollo, very good. The acting of Shaka by Henry Cele is really what made the movie as good as it was and I could not think of anyone else acting as Shaka after having seen Henry Cele as Shaka, it has to be the top casting and acting ever. I find it incredible disappointing that when I look up Shaka Zulu the first actors mentioned are the white English actors, not Henry Cele??? Not saying that the acting by the English was not good but certainly not superior to all the black actors who were very good, such a pleasure to watch as was the portrayal of the Zulu culture and lifestyle. Loved it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is something haunting about this min-series. When I first saw it,
for some odd reason I felt like I already knew the story of Shaka. The
way I already knew the story of Paul Bunyan or John Henry or even Pecos
Bill. Moreover, I felt like I already knew Shaka, knew of his deeds;
too horrible to mention in polite society. He represented some kind of
mythic archetype that somehow takes up permanent residence in the mind.
That of the Black Destroyer perhaps. But beyond that, he still
represents something ambiguous and amorphous in African consciousness.
Something that goes beyond the gruesomeness and the blood and slaughter
and death that he represents with many to address in a very modern way
the concept of nation building and the spirit that organizes states and
cultures. Something, one is tempted to say, that goes beyond Good and
Even though this is not a movie in the strictest sense of the word, I have to mention it here because Henry Cele's performance as Shaka stands up there with what George C. Scott did with PATTON, what Laurence Olivier did with HENRY THE FIFTH, or Denzel Washington with MALCOLM X, and yes, even what Robert Powell did with Jesus OF NAZARETH. I just want to go on record as saying it is one of the greatest performances of the Twentieth Century.
Because it takes ten episodes to tell his story, one feels a catharsis exhaust itself that is very much akin to what one might experience in the Theater. First of all, you get to see Shaka from the perspective of the Western viewpoint and in that context, he is no more than the odd colorful token you find in many Western films. A cameo figure like Baby Face Nelson in O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU. But as soon as the viewpoint shifts to an African perspective, the enchantment begins for me. Suddenly I see people like my aunts and uncles and black men and women I have seen in the neighborhood acting and responding as I have seen them act and respond to dramatic issues in Life.
Through it all there is Shaka, running from trouble with his mother and causing trouble with a vision that includes blood revenge and yet is curiously somehow beyond all that and is a reaching through all the narrowed eyed thirst for dominion through combat and conquest for a new, and as yet undefined reality better than the one that is to be lived. All my life I have seen men like Shaka, dark and lean, natural leaders who run bowling alleys or end up elite police officers or boxers or world champion martial artists or give lectures on African culture at our high school in front of their wives. The thing that became more and more riveting watching this min-series was how obvious it was that Henry Cele represented the original from which all the other versions sprang.
The other thing that was refreshing was how most of Shaka's problems did not have the mythical White Man as their source. Instead, his troubles revolved around political tensions derived from difficulties he was having with his own people with regard to his ties to family and tribe and an apocalyptic prophecy of cultural devastation.
At the end of this mini-series, despite all its flaws regarding continuity, one feels one has enjoyed the rare privilege of experiencing the epic sweep of a great life in both its grandeur and profoundly tragic limitations. But these are revealed as the limitations of humanity as well as Shaka's own. There is a moment at the end that felt like the spirit of the sixties, with people reaching out in both directions across the ocean to create a new understanding while not quite sure why they were doing so. There was that sense of being moved to create something larger than themselves. Something that would defy the degenerative process of societies and civilizations and the self-fulfilling prophecy of doom for nation states.
The Spirit of Shaka remains a haunting and troublesome reflection. All I really understand about Shaka's mystique is that there was this gifted sculptress named Ruth Gowens who did many worthy terra-cotta sculptures of Black Folks in scenes of Southern and Urban Life. But when it came time for her to do a life size sculpture of some great leader, she did not chose Martin Luther King or Malcolm X.
She chose Shaka.
As someone who is very interested in the Zulu nation and having read many books on this subject particularly The Washing of Spears by Donald R Morris- I was looking forward to watching the DVD box set. I had caught odd episode repeats on TV and wanted to view it properly. However, I was disappointed with it. The editing was appalling. SCenes suddenly ended as the screen went black and new scenes started without any natural chronology - I assume to fit in adverts on TV. Whole scenes of the tribal episodes had the use of the Zulu language without subtitles so there was no explanation of what was happening. Additionally, some of the local actors used had such thick accents they needed subtitles when speaking English and some of the acting was very stilted and wooden. Also the battle scenes although they had a cast of thousands looked artificial. Warriors were dying all over the place with a bit of tomato sauce and no real injury. Shaka saves a warrior who has a spear in his back, when he meets him later there is no scar. The fighting had no real explanation about who hey were fighting. One minute he is taken in by someone, then he is with someone else. The scenes with the usual stockpot of English actors who always turn in a decent performance were good as one would expect. I particularly liked Edward Fox who dropped his Edward 8th mannerisms for a change. Henry Cele looked majestic as Shaka so was well cast, but the scenes in his younger years were awful. Dudu Mkhize as Nandi, SHaka's mother gave the best performance in the whole series. It seemed neither a film nor a documentary but as it was apparently made in South Africa before the end of Apartheid at least it let the magnificent Zulus relive their history
Although the first few episodes on the first disc were slow as molasses, I liked the middle disks. It was an interesting view into what life was like for Africans in that part of the world around 1800. The hypocrisy of the British and Dutch made me want to puke. (For instance, traveling over 6,000 miles to another continent to defeat the "savages" who were threatening the European way of life.) Even though the movie focused on African royalty and warrior culture, it would be interesting to see this time period from other points of view, like women or children. The movie covered a range of human stories: love, betrayal, jealousy, military, politics, culture, religion and triumph. There was even a good villainess. The movie tone could have been tongue in cheek or slapstick, but instead Shaka Zulu was treated with dignity, regardless of what side of history you are on. Makes you realize what a joke most movies are that supposedly show Africans before they adopted Western culture. The most annoying thing was the too loud, fake African chorus that kept intruding into the movie. It sounded like the Mormon Tabernacle choir.
To begin with, the entire first episode should be ignored! It is so
laughable terrible that you can't imagine that it was written and
filmed by anyone who knew anything about film making. Truly AWFUL
wooden script combined with wooden acting and the soundtrack that was
surely lifted from a bad Bert Bacharach L.P., although I suspect that
I'm insulting Bert. I watched it in amused awe at the waste of film and
I watched the second episode so I could boast that I had suffered and sat through, the most awful drivel of a movie, but was amazed as the story finally turned from the European perspective to the story of the rise of Shaka Zulu.
It was the feeling of authenticity of the filming that dumbfounded me. It is so rare that a movie set in Africa captures (as I imagine) the sense of raw, brutal and naked power without flinching. It seems very, very real and I have to presume that it works so well because it is using the natural talent of real people who aren't acting. The movie almost becomes documentary at times and you realize that you are watching a believable movie based on a true story.
Having said that, there is something slightly schizophrenic about the movie making which makes it one of the most bizarre movies I have ever reviewed but it deserves an eight because of the location filming with people who obviously believe and understand their own proud history.
Although the scenes of Zulu tribal life were rich in detail, there was too much emphasis on the rituals of the tribe. One might think that all the Zulu did was engage in constant ritual and unending festival. The storyline switches from the introduction of the English to the pre-birth of Shaka with little explanatory background. This was docu-drama and not a documentary, but a certain amount of geographical and historical reference to the rest of Africa might have helped. The most difficult aspect of this mini-series was the highly accented English of the performers illustrating the need for subtitles, which were absent from both the original production, and the DVD version. Perhaps if I had been able to understand the dialog better, the story would have been easier to follow.
This 9 hour mini-series is part soap-opera,part action-adventure epic.It is indeed a massive production and one can only marvel at the effort that has so obviously gone into re-creating the early 19th century in which the story is set.The film can basically be divided into 2 parts - the British/Zulu relationship and the birth and rise of Shaka.The British/Zulu relationship segments appear as bookends whereas the story of Shaka basically makes up the substantial middle.Performances,as usual in such TV productions,are mostly above average(though seeing the natives speak in English does jar a bit - the local dialect with subtitles would have been more appropriate).The political and social milieu of the times is well presented and no sides are taken.At the end of the day,however,one gets the distinct impression that the time taken to tell the story is much more than the substance in hand demands.
a timeless, epic classic tale of the woo-ti booties v. the boo-tie
woo-ties. i'm not sure which side shaka wars on. such sophisticated
cultures i cannot compare to any other cultures of any other time, any
other place. unfortunately some will always claim this story to be
laced with racism which is not so subtle with the writer's use of such
diction; i.e. ''kaffirs'', and ''monkeys''. also, there were a few
break-out actors in this film, and a few that i think just ''broke
out''. of course mentioning the high lights of this movie would amount
to revealing the plot spoilers.
warring tribe leaders of this period can clearly compare our current day leaders also having African decent. no ironies here, just direct history in places like Somalia, and former Zaire.
It seems that the best actors were the tribesmen, done on location, and very graphic on the gore. Could tell right away that this wasn't American Television. The Aussie's and New Zelanders, definately make better mini-series than we do.
This movie was made by the white dominated government in order to gain support from the Zulus during the final years of Apartheid. The whites were trying to form an alliance of some sort with the Zulu's in order to counteract the ANC and other Black Nationalist groups. This movie was part of the propaganda campaign to woo the Zulu's into the Whites camp. Very good movie by the way.
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