South African filmmakers reimagine an apartheid identity

Filmmakers Kelly-Eve Koopman and Sarah Summers on their new webseries Coloured Mentality

Filmmakers Kelly-Eve Koopman and Sarah Summers are trying to figure out their own complex identity as "coloured" 20-somethings in Cape Town, South Africa. We sat down with the duo for a QnA about their new webseries Coloured Mentality. The six-part webseries documents their preparations for the 1000 kilometre Indigenous Liberation Walk from the Eastern Cape to the Castle in Cape Town, South Africa.

Coloured was a racial designation instituted by the Apartheid government through the Populations Registrations Act of 1950. It was further reinforced through the Group Areas Act of 1950 which forced those classified as coloured to live in “coloured townships”. Coloured became a blanket term used to describe people with mixed heritage (European colonisers, indigenous KhoisanXhosa people, and slaves imported from the Dutch East Indies). Seperated from people classified as black African or white, coloured people occupied an ambigious position during apartheid and despite the fall of the regime in 1994, the identity of coloured people still comes into question today. While the term is derogatory in other countries, it is still accepted in South Africa. 

The webseries, which documents the experiences of "coloured" celebrities and thought leaders, aims to provide a platform for coloured people to interrogate their identity and speak about their experiences.

What is Coloured Mentality (the webseries) about?

Kelly: So it’s a six-part webseries. We’re doing a documentary, shooting it in February. We’re going on this 1000 kilometre walk with this group of Khoi activists and we’re filming it. We’re going on this indigenous heritage journey and for us it was just particularly important to first understand and interrogate the idea of coloured identity before taking that step. And just because of the tough conversations we’re always involved in, this is obviously a tenuous subject. What we really wanted to do was create a platform where we could look at this identity and all the different elements associated to it in a way that was non-stereotypical, critical but also asking people to share their uncensored opinions around it.

It covered a range of areas that I think were always a little bit touchy to engage with. Questions like are coloured people black? Is Afrikaans a white language? All these grey area/coloured area questions. And we particularly identified people who we feel had a specific amount of influence or power in media for the purpose of the conversation.

Those are voices that you don’t often hear engaging with that kind of narrative. You see [them] as the face of a certain identity but they also have a sway that would create a platform where people would actually engage with the conversation and be wanting to hear what these people said around the more nitty-gritty aspects to identity [politics].

Sarah: Just putting them all together is also not conforming to the stereotype. You’re seeing successful coloured people that are well spoken and articulate and are understanding their identities in very complex and interesting ways. I think that is not associated with coloured identity.

How important is identity to coloured people?

Kelly: Again, going on this journey and entrenching that identity in something really ancient and as coming from the first people of South Africa; which is what the premise of what our documentary is; that’s not something people generally associate when they hear the term coloured. You don’t go “oh, indigenous people that have a specific culture and specific rituals and specific heritage”. But those are all part of it that don’t enter the larger narrative unless you really start trying to engage with it, which is exactly what we’re trying to do I suppose.

Sarah: All we’re really doing is starting a conversation about what [coloured] identity is. We’re not saying it is anything. We’re not imposing certain ideas on it. We’ve gotten [brought] a bunch of people together and put their opinions next to each other to give a different perspective, because the overriding perspective is a negative one.

Kelly: And it’s not complex. It’s like something that’s quite plat...surface level.

What inspired the title?

Sarah: I think that the term is like ‘typical coloured mentality’.

Kelly: It a phrase that’s always used in a derogatory context. And we all have derogatory phrases for how we group certain races or cultures. You’ve heard certain things said about certain groups. But what is interesting to us is that that phrase (coloured mentality) is about coloured people’s minds. How coloured people think. It’s rooted in thought.

Sarah: Like the way that they are thinking is not completely nuanced.

Kelly: Or not to our own advantage. It’s usually said when you do something that’s not to your own advantage…

What do you think about people that don’t identify as Khoi but identify as coloured?

Kelly: I feel like whenever people sit in marginalised identities people have the right to self-definition. It bothers me when people tell coloured people that you shouldn't identify as coloured. It’s the same thing with language; telling someone they shouldn’t speak Afrikaans because it’s a white language but it’s the language you grew up with.

What do you hope this webseries does for the broader context of South Africa?

Sarah: I think there might be some controversy with Afrikaners about “is Afrikaans a white language?” and “are coloured people black?” is interesting for coloured and black relationships because there is a kind of division. We’ll get to a point where people can identify with the personalities and recognise them as thought leaders and enter into a space where they can see themselves as black (if they so choose) as well as coloured, which I think could be a huge mindshift coloured people but also for back people.

Kelly: It’s to create a space where all these different perspectives and worlds can meet and where we engage with different facets of a debate that really need to be interrogated on all levels.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the first episode below: