The global messenger: ​Tebogo Malope

Filmmaker and director

Tebogo Malope’s interest in the visual medium began unconsciously in his tender years.

For reasons he has since forgotten, Malope was the go-to guy Jabavu, Soweto, whenever someone needed their television set up. This, coupled with the opportunity to meet Spike Lee, nourished his love for visual storytelling.

“He was here working on a documentary that they were shooting for Mandela and, at the time, I used to go to this tiny little private school in Melville. They went there to shoot a scene and I walked towards the lights and there he was sitting behind a monitor. I ran up to him and said, ‘Yo I’m a little kid from the hood and I know your work’ and then I sat next to him directing and that was pretty cool. I remember when I walked away I turned around and told him, ‘One day I’m gonna be doing what you’re doing,’ and I ran off,” said Malope.

Today he is an award-winning filmmaker and director behind some memorable television commercials, music videos, movies and television series.

Work and meaning

Malope has sat among the creative teams behind TV shows IsiBaya, It’s Complicated and Ayeye.

In 2015, he directed the award winning feature film For Love and Broken Bones and, more recently, Nakhane’s Clairvoyant and Kwesta’s Spirit music videos.

“I studied on the streets. I had formal schooling but I studied on the streets,” he says.

For this hard work, he has the Cannes Lions award, under the Best Use of Film, for a Cadbury commercial that he directed and a Golden Horn nomination, under the best achievement in directing.

His work tells of the different layers of everyday South Africa. Although every layer can stand on its own, their amalgamation encourages the celebration of an authentic South Africa.

Malope credits his ability to tell these stories to respecting the story and understanding it as a powerful entity: “I feel like stories exist in their own world, in their own ecosystem and once you’re in it, you can do photography, you can do film, theatre. As long as it’s pure and I’m staying truthful to where I come from and telling stories that are an honest reflection of our people. In terms of the medium it doesn’t matter to me. Whether it’s an ad, music video or feature film I dig them all for different reasons.”

As Fezokuhle Mthonti recently wrote in an analysis of the music video for Spirit, which was directed by Malope, “his work looks to celebrate the black South African life in all its permutations and authenticities”. So far, his work has covered an array of topics: from debt for the working class, normalising queer black love and an active resistance to racism, all of which are relevant to the South African context on different levels. His frames manage to capture the everyday of different South African black contexts with a lens that does not add to or take away from the realities — it just celebrates it. This shows us what we already know and see but fail to recognise as beautiful.”

Malope says: “Whenever I’m asked when my love for filmmaking began, I always say it’s not so much about filmmaking than it is about stories. My aim is to take the local story and make it global and give the world an honest portrayal of where I come from. I hope to be that voice but not just in a localised context. I want to be the local plug for the global audience. I want to show the world how much we shine. We have authentic stories. I just hope I’m the vehicle that packages and transports it for global consumption.”

Future plans

Although Malope is weary of giving out details of what he has planned, he says he will continue to work on creating and collaborating with African artists to further his goal of global consumption of African narratives.

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Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa studies Digital Democracy, New Media and Political Activism, and Digital Politics.

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