Sihle Hlophe: The film industry still largely sexist, and at times racist

Sihle Hlope chooses the stories that she wants to tell through her communications business Click To Tweet

In a modern world of film, deeply ingrained and out-dated sexist misconceptions are still stamped on film scripts and video cameras. It wouldn’t be a truthful to say the women working behind the scenes of some great productions, worked with smiles on their faces from beginning to end. In South Africa, there are some really talented women directors who do not get enough recognition.

Sihle Hlophe is a rising 30-year-old film director who is challenging the ingrained sexism of the industry through storytelling. Sihle has openly spoken about sexism in film. She is a holder of the current ICA fellowship and the chairperson of Writer’s Guild of South Africa.

Journalist, Khethiwe Mndawe got to interview Sihle for SLA while she was in London for the Screenwriters’ Festival with the Writers’ Guild of South Africa.

Briefly describe how running your own business in the film and production industry has been for you as a young black woman.

I started my company, Passion Seeds Communications in order to promote minority languages and make a contribution towards the alleviation of youth unemployment. I also wanted to give a platform to marginalized female technicians such as cinematographers, editors and sound recordists.

Although the journey has been rocky, it has also been very fulfilling. The biggest challenge is the difficulty in accessing funding for films. However, the government has progressive incentives in place to help young entrepreneurs.

Another challenge is that the industry is still largely sexist, and at times racist. One has to be persistent; knocking on doors and getting rejected repeatedly is not for the faint-hearted. The best part about owning my own production company is creating jobs, training young people and of course, getting to choose the stories that I want to tell.

Which film production projects have you done that closely targets stories related to Mpumalanga or the neighbouring borders, eg, Swaziland?

Both of my short films are SiSwati films. You can see some of them on my Twitter page. I have not had the opportunity to shoot in Mpumalanga. This is due to lack of support from the province, even though both my films are ‘set’ in Mpumalanga.

I shoot in Gauteng because that is where I get support. I must mention though that I was deeply touched when the Department of Arts & Culture recognized my work by presenting me with a ‘Best SiSwati Film’ award at the Mpumalanga Provincial Arts & Sports Awards in 2015; I just wish that support would extend to actual productions.

Also, I did a short documentary a few years ago based in Swaziland. Its topic is related to the reed dance of virgin girls.

One has to be persistent in face of the challenges in the film production industry Click To Tweet

Which countries abroad have you visited and what were you representing there?

My film ‘As I Am’ has been screened at prestigious film festivals in the USA, Switzerland, Tanzania and here in South Africa. With support from the Department of Trade & Industry, my company Passion Seed Communications has been to film festivals and markets in France, the Netherlands, the USA, England, Germany and Canada.

I was also an exchange student in Helsinki, Finland during my final year as a film student at Wits University. Other countries I have visited include Brazil, Kenya, Lesotho, Poland, Estonia, Holland, Swaziland and Botswana. I would like to visit Asia next.


What unique experiences did you come across in these countries?

I have experienced many unique things in many different countries.

One of my greatest experiences as a filmmaker is when I am afforded the opportunity to share my story with people from different walks of life. To see that story resonate with those people is the most powerful thing a storyteller can experience.

@NubianStorytela's films have been screened at prestigious film festivals in different countries Click To Tweet

What changes would you like to see in the industry when it comes to opportunities for African women directors?

There are some really talented women directors who do not get any work or recognition because of deeply ingrained and outdated sexist misconceptions. It’s truly sad. Some directors are also subjected to sexism and sexual harassment. I would like to see this change! Enough is enough.

I would also like to see the government of Mpumalanga investing in its talent and supporting filmmakers like other provinces do. I have more chances of getting support from the Durban Film Commission than I do in my own home province. For me, that is a tragic situation.

What have been you greatest achievements so far?

Finishing my Masters degree under very trying circumstances and writing and directing two SiSwati films. I am an advocate of minority languages.

In fact, the title of my Masters paper was, “The Underrepresentation of Minority Languages on SABC 1: The case of SiSwati“. I have been passionate about promoting my mother tongue for as long as I can remember.

You were recently granted the ICA fellowship, congratulations! What is it about?

I was one of the fellows chosen by The Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) for 2016. The opportunity is awarded to creative thinkers and doers in diverse disciplines. ICA fellowships encourages collaborative dialogue around issues of urbanism, community, historical legacy and the postcolonial imaginary.

Fellows are encouraged to test boundaries, engage with new publics, and to explore the critical potentialities of live art. The ICA is particularly excited about the diverse contributions and imaginative ways of thinking presented by this year’s fellows –from performative writing, dance and music, to art, curatorship and interdisciplinary research. Conversations, exhibitions and public interventions presented by fellows will be announced in due course.


Tell us briefly about “Nomfundo”?

“Nomfundo” is a short film about a conflicted, young woman whose life is irrevocably changed when she has a transcendental encounter with someone from her past.

The film is currently in post-production. It is my second SiSwati film and it stars Lucky Khoza. Lucky is one of the few SiSwati actors who has gained recognition for his hard work over the years.

Sihle Hlophe is an advocate for minority languages and shoots films in SiSwati Click To Tweet

What current project are you working on or promoting?

I have just started filming my feature-length documentary, “Lobola, A Bride’s True Price”. The documentary interrogates the idea of lobola (the bride price) from both a feminist and Pan African point of view.

I am also a national fellow at the University of Cape Town’s Institute of Creative Arts and the Chairperson of the Writers’ Guild of South Africa.

Your latest film sounds like very enthralling and personal topic. Can you tell us more?

In “Lobola, A Bride’s True Price”, I will be turning the camera on myself, and sharing my journey to becoming a married woman. I am a proclaimed feminist and someone who is both ‘Westernised’ yet deeply rooted in African identity. Through this unique perspective, I will be unpacking the notion of bride price in a way that can only be done by someone with extremely close proximity to the subject matter.

I describe it as, “vacillating between the scientifically sound written history of the West and the oral history of my elders”. The documentary will navigate numerous ethical and cultural landmines, challenging feminist beliefs about marriage as well as my identity as a South African woman of Bantu descent”.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Ledet Muleta: I had to ask myself, “What is the loudest way to make a statement?”

ledet muleta

Mental health is rarely approached with the care and attention it deserves in both African and African Diasporic communities. Nurse turned filmmaker Ledet Muleta hopes to change this statusquo. She started Medixaa Health Services to address the lack of proper mental health care in many African countries. Now Ledet wants to push further with her most recent project the film CHULA, which she is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for. Here Ledet shares valuable insight to those Motherland Moguls who want to be filmmakers but are not sure how. She also reminds us why mental health and substance abuse should be of more concern.

Your work draws attention to mental health in Africa, is there anything in particular that lead to this?

I have been pretty fortunate to have the experience of working in facilities that support a large population of psychiatric patients. I worked for six years at the University of Maryland Medical Center where I gained great experience in giving care to those affected by different types of psychiatric conditions. Our hospital was in the heart of Baltimore City and we took great pride in providing high quality psychiatric treatment. I learned how to deal with acute psychiatric conditions and took care of patients that smaller hospitals could not care for, enhancing my ability to handle stressful situations.

Since then I have been working at the National Institute of Health (NIH) as a Research Nurse focusing on mental health. The NIH has inspired me even further as I get to work with renowned scientists, dedicated nurses, and an overall interdisciplinary team. Each time I traveled to an African country, I dreamt of replicating that level of care and the impact it makes. I also had a year long volunteer position as a nurse working with refugees in the Washington D.C. area, mostly from Ethiopia and Eritrea. That was certainly an eye opener and the motivator behind this entire project. The stories I heard and the heartache I felt enabled me to be fearless about starting this project.

How is mental illness viewed in your community and what else can be done to change attitudes?

Mental illness carries stigma all around the world but in my community, this stigma is severe. People who suffer with mental illness in Ethiopia are often forced into isolation because their families are ashamed of them. The problem is often hidden and ignored until it is too late. Some forego healthcare completely, and subject their mentally ill family members to constant religious intervention, when the issue could easily be solved with medication.

It is important to divert more funds towards mental illness. With the proper funding, access to medication and information could make mental illness easier to manage. In order to change attitudes, it is also important to create a more public dialogue about mental illness and what it means to be mentally ill. If people talked about their experiences with mental illness, it would be normalized and those suffering with mental illness would know that they’re not alone. Another way to combat these issues is with education. By providing educational resources on substance abuse and mental illness we can ensure that our community no longer feels the need to be ashamed, and that they know that their conditions can be effectively managed.

CHULAWhat message do you hope to tell with CHULA?

The inspiration for CHULA comes from seeing some preventable issues becoming life threatening problems for individuals. There is no cure for mental illness, however, most mental illnesses are treatable and can be managed. The lack of access to adequate mental healthcare combined with the stigma of mental illness has intensified the impact of mental illness in Africa.

Furthermore, the market for drugs like heroin and cocaine is growing in many African countries, making substance abuse a major health concern as well. With the public looking for preventable education, many are becoming victims and that disparity is what inspired me to make this film.

As a nurse, when did you take the leap into film making? Is CHULA the first film you’ve made?

I never thought I’d ever venture into film making. This happened out of desperation to tackle the stigma of mental illness in the African community. In my own experience, I see too often that Africans in the Diaspora have a hard time dealing with the stigma in their communities. This often forces them to hide their personal struggles and as a result, they often find themselves in a more dire predicament.

In my travels across different countries in Africa, I was enraged to see so many affected by mental illness as well as substance abuse. I wanted to start a campaign that would address these issues and I had to ask myself, “What is the loudest way to make a statement?” which led to the creation of my first film, CHULA.

chulapic1How did you go about getting the skills to be a filmmaker?

The first thing I had to do was to draft the script for the film while simultaneously weaving my travels as a great source of inspiration. I wrote the script in various environments, either spending time with my close friends or on long flights from DC to Maputo, for example. Once I completed the script, I reached out to friends who were highly involved in the arts and pitched my script in the hopes of finding a director.

That’s when I was connected with Shane Colella, CHULA’s director, and it was through him that I was able to learn more about the film making process and gain the relevant skills needed in order to be successful. Additionally, I had to take the initiative of going through my own personal learning process; this occurred through attending film events and turning to the library and internet for resources, and so forth.

What words would you use to describe the last three months of your life?

Fearlessness, trust, dedication, team work, and change are some of the words that can describe the last three months of my life.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.