Yesterday (2004) Film. Director : Darryl James Roodt


fter falling ill, Yesterday learns that she is HIV positive. With her husband in denial and young daughter to tend to, Yesterday’s one goal is to live long enough to see her child go to school.(Imdb)

Bheki Ka Mncube, Senior Reporter, The Natal Witness (Pitermaritzburg) [1]

Yesterday (2004) directed by Darryl James Roodt

The film Yesterday screened recently at the opening of the 25th Durban International Festival. Directed by Darryl James Roodt, Yesterday portrays the stereotypical African woman as a collector of wood, bearer of children and beast of burden.

Yesterday is the first fully fledged isiZulu feature film with English subtitles. It was shot in the Bergville area of KwaZulu-Natal. A moving story of an illiterate young mother named Yesterday (played by Leleti Khumalo of Sarafina fame), she falls ill and discovers that she is HIV positive.  Compounding her desperate situation is that she lives below the poverty line with an absent migrant husband.

The story is set in a rural environment, and Yesterday is meant to portray a rural African woman struggling to come to terms with HIV, poverty, illiteracy, and the poor delivery of health services, water and other resources. The grand idea, it will appear, is that Yesterday ought to be the story of the devastation wrought by the HIV virus on families amid disintegrating communities; a gripping film that must offer a glimpse of that twilight zone between courage and fear.

The film lacks good elements of storytelling, i.e. the backstory, the meaning, the context of what went before, that would inform this situation. As a character, Yesterday seems to have no history to inform her current pathetic situation. At no point in the film does she talk about her parents, friends or relatives, even when she discovers her HIV status.  At worst, the film provides a shopping list of contemporary social issues—domestic violence, absent husbands, unfaithfulness in the context of HIV/AIDS, rural underdevelopment—confronting Africans in our country today. None of these are fully developed.  At best, it is just a caricature of South Africa at 10.

Yesterday becomes a modern remake of the stereotypic African woman as a collector of wood, bearer of children and beast of burden. Producer Anant Singh and the gang forlornly fail to capture the lot of an ordinary poor African woman. Yes, this might be their lot, but their lot is also much much more. The one-dimensionality of Yesterday and village life fails to challenge these stereotypes and this does a disservice to the African renaissance.

Yesterday’s husband, is a migrant mineworker, who refuses to accept his status or take responsibility for the plight of his wife.  Consequently, Yesterday is left to fend for herself and her young daughter, Beauty.  In a bizarre twist, the husband arrives home, already showing signs of advanced AIDS-related illnesses.  Only then does he seek his wife’s forgiveness.  Perhaps a little detail missing: mine houses were amongst the first companies to roll out anti-retroviral drugs for their staff.  At no stage, does Yesterday’s husband seek such help.  The subtext is that big business in South Africa sends miners with AIDS home to die.  And this is what will be sold to international audiences.  Furthermore, Yesterday, is never counseled during her HIV testing.  At no point was she informed about anti-retrovirals.

Singh asserted at the opening that Yesterday is a powerful film that confronts the social stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.  It is the story of one woman’s perseverance to survive against all odds and audiences will be deeply touched by it.?  I was deeply touched, not by the lonely struggle of Yesterday, but by the opportunity missed to produce a great South African film devoid of all neo-colonial stereotypes.

Instead of confronting the social stigmas of HIV/AIDS, the film perpetuates them.  Upon hearing about Yesterday’s plight, the village women violently threaten to get rid of her and her family.  The viewer doesn’t get a sense of enlightenment from any member of this community.  Even a teacher? Yesterday’s new friend seems to only make a feeble attempt to liberate a community so ignorant about HIV/AIDS.  I thought her introduction in the plot would serve a stronger purpose.

A sangoma, who Yesterday consulted after two attempts to see a doctor at the local clinic had failed, was also suspect.  During the consultation she instructed Yesterday: “Get rid of your anger, then I will heal you.”  I’ve consulted manysangomas, and even fake ones don’t dish out such hogwash.  Adding salt to open wound, the same sangoma leads a bunch of village women confronting Yesterday about her AIDS-diseased husband.  Again, Singh, it doesn’t happen like that in South African-African communities.

The film opened last week (14 June 2004) at the Suncoast Casino cinema marking the official opening of the 25th edition of the Durban Film Festival.  It goes on general release on 30 July and then heads for the international circuit.  If you’re proudly South African. . .: watch it with a critical eye.

Note: Yesterday is written and directed by Darryl James Roodt and stars Leleti Khumalo.  It is produced by Anant Singh.  Yesterday is a Videovision Entertainment production brought to you in association with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, M-Net, The National Film and Video Foundation, Distant Horizon and Exciting Films.