By Yerushka Chetty
The scathing letter sent by Vatiswa Ndara (the main actor of the television drama ‘iGazi’) to the Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, requesting that he deals appropriately with Ferguson Films for exploiting actors; and complaining that the Furgusons had underpaid her, calls for an honest appraisal of the exploitation of actors in the entertainment industry.
I worked in the film industry with black technical assistants who stayed assistants for 20 years. I watched over and over again as white people would easily recieve job titles that accorded them higher pay, for work their black assistants were doing.
I saw movies where black crew were not even given the respect of a credit at the end of a movie for work they literally slaved on for months. I saw how at the end of filming a movie or series, white crew would buy houses and go on holidays and black crew would, if they are lucky, have enough to buy a second hand car, or save for 3 months rent.
I saw in movie after movie that all managers were white, and all assistants were black. Black crew were never given an opportunity to lead in any form. That situation still prevails.
All the movies I’ve worked on had racist, sexist, misogynist undertones – always either romanticizing colonialism, potraying women as nothing more than sex objects, and/ or portraying Africa as savage.
Myself, I spent a few years being an intern because that was the easiest way to find work. I was an intern being paid a 3rd of the salary of my white counterparts, doing their work. My experience in the film industry though was relatively more positive than that of the other black female crew. I say so because I did not experience sexual assault in that environment, which is common.
The film industry is a multi billion rand industry. It’s tightly controlled by a few white families. Those who complain are not given an opportunity to work on future projects. So no one complains out of fear.
The point is that the Fergusons are not the real face of exploitation of the entertainment industry. The industry is predominantly owned, controlled and managed by white families – thus power resides in white hands. It is designed to exploit, oppress and discriminate against the downtrodden. No one will dare attack the white families who have the real power in the industry because they know they’ll never find work again.