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‘Happiness is a Four-Letter Word’ Film Adaptation Is an Example of the Growth of Black Cinema

While the United States is experiencing a new wave of Black filmmakers stepping into the fray and garnering recognition, Black cinema across the globe is also gaining traction. International, Black-centric films such as the French film, Girlhood, and the Ethiopian film, Lamb, both made splashes at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014 and 2015 respectively.  The next film that could join this list next year is the South African film, Happiness is a Four Letter-Word, as first reported by Shadow and Act.

An adaptation of Cynthia Jele’s breakthrough novel, the film follows the lives of three Black women living out their dreams.  Mmabatho Montsho plays Nandi, a lawyer and perfectionist, Khanyi Mbau plays Zaza, who lives the high life as a trophy wife, and Renate Stuurman is Princess, a trend-setting art gallery owner.  While all three support each other and have everything they could ask for, they learn happiness runs deeper than a successful exterior.  The film is directed by Thabang Moleya.

Jele, won the 2011 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book, Africa Region and the 2011 M-Net Literary prize in her native South Africa.  The South African National Film and Video Foundation is helping finance and produce the film, making a conscious effort to cultivate Black talent and celebrate diversity. Although the narrative focuses on South African culture, there’s still an universality about the premise of the film.

Though Africa’s film history garners little exposure, the continent’s cinematic lineage starts with Ousmane Sembene. Sembene, also a renowned novelist, shattered the international barrier with the domestic maid drama, Black Girl.  Black Girl won the Prix Jean Vigo at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival.

With the film industry more interconnected, there’s good reason to believe that the South African film scene can experience their variation of new wave cinema.  Happiness is a Four-Letter Word can very well be the film that leads the charge.

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