12 Jan Coloured Mentality: The pertinent web series exploring coloured identity in SA
Filmmakers Kelly-Eve Koopman and Sarah Summers plan to participate in a 1000km walk over two weeks. Their forthcoming documentary on the journey, an annual event called the Indigenous Liberation Walk, is tentatively titled Strandloper – a name given to the indigenous people who once lived and moved along South Africa’s coasts. In preparation for this project the filmmakers realised that the question of contemporary Coloured identity needed to explored in-depth. Working through some of these difficult ideas as research, Koopman and Summers developed the web series Coloured Mentality, which will be released periodically from 12 January.
Consisting of six five-minute episodes, each installment of Coloured Mentality tackles one central question answered by a number of popular media personalities, actors, and creative people who define themselves as Coloured. “The questions were based on subjects that we personally, and others struggled with, or things people did not want to talk about,” Koopman explained.
Summers studied Film and Media at the University of Cape Town, and Koopman studied Theatre at Stellenbosch University. They’re romantic and professional partners, and together they conceptualise each project, with Koopman taking the lead on writing, and Summers on editing and technical details. We met to discuss Coloured Mentality, and some of the ideas that generated from the making of the project. An edited version of our interview appears here.
Amie Soudien: One of the questions you ask your interview subjects is, “Where do Coloured people come from?” For each of you, what is your answer?
Kelly-Eve Koopman: I grew up in a Black Consciousness household, and my mom was a political activist. There was never an investigation about what this term Coloured meant beyond cultural identification. Before this I don’t think I interrogated my origins, beyond understanding my position as a young, politically black, culturally Coloured woman in South Africa. Through this journey we’re hoping to answer a lot of these questions. I’m not necessarily going to do a genetics test to see my exact percentage of mixed origins. I don’t know if that’s as helpful as trying to understand your cumulative heritage. It’s about understanding this entire trajectory of what could have made you, as this Coloured person.
“Is Afrikaans a white language?” got the most passionate responses from people.
Sarah Summers: The term comes from apartheid, people come from slavery. There’s ancestry with the Khoi. It’s important to understand we come primarily from the Khoi. This is controversial, because it’s not necessarily the truth. Many things determine where we come from, but we should choose to bring forth that narrative because it steeps us in an ancient and indigenous people. It makes us more than a by-product of apartheid.
Although I don’t think anywhere in the series do we tell Coloured people how to see themselves, because we have to be self-determined. We have to start a conversation where it’s safe. If the term has all these negative stereotypes around it, how do we make it something that people can be empowered to be?
Amie: Did any of your interview participants readily identify with their Khoi identity?
Kelly-Eve: A couple, yes. There were many that said that they were looking into it, or that it was a consciousness they were trying to access.
Sarah: Brendan Daniels, Jitsvinger, Denise Newman… Many of them are in the arts, so they were exposed to scenarios where they had to access these histories for their work. When we asked them, “Are Coloured people Khoi?” Some people answered, “I know I have Khoi blood.” That was very common.
Amie: Why do you think Coloured identity is so difficult to talk about?
Sarah: Politically, in Black Consciousness circles, if you’re woke, to say that you’re Coloured means you’re disassociating with your blackness, which buys into apartheid connotations of what a Coloured person is, and the making of the ‘so-called Coloured’ thing: “Why do you not see yourself as black, why must you be Coloured?” There was a point where we were like, how is this okay?
Kelly-Eve: You can problematise the term and its origin, but by trying to erase it, you’re erasing an entire people who have already been marginalised.
Amie: What were some of the most surprising responses from participants in the web series?
Sarah: We asked “What should Coloured people be proud of?” and that was one of the hardest questions for people to answer. People would list the negative things, and then say, “But it’s okay because we have the ability…” So it became this very difficult thing to just engage with Coloured pride.
Kelly-Eve: Also “Is Afrikaans a white language?” got the most passionate responses from people. It’s about culture, the thing you hold dearest to you. To hear people defend it so vehemently, was cool to see, because it’s an important narrative.
The first episode of Coloured Mentality drops today! Subscribe to their YouTube channel to keep up to date with the latest episodes and check out their FB page to find out more about the Indigenous Liberation Walk.