It’s too bad that I’m only just learning about this screening, especially since it was just a couple of weeks ago, I published an item on a book I encouraged you all to purchase, titled “Dictionary of African Filmmakers” by Roy Armes – a book that includes this film amongst its thousands of entries.
You’ll recall what I said about regretting not having seen the majority of the films listed in the book, given that most of them aren’t readily available for purchase, or even to rent, and my intentions to collect as many of the films as I could get rights to, and make available via some online database accessible to almost anyone worldwide.
So it frustrates even more that I wasn’t aware of this screening, right in my backyard, and thus, missed it, when it happened late last week, at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. But, thankfully, I’m told that, as luck would have it, there will be a second (and final) screening of “Joe Bullet,” at MoMa, set for this Thursday, November 13, at 4:30pm. However, sadly, I won’t be able to attend that screening either, but, now that I’m aware of it, I’m hoping that one of my New York S&A co-writers can attend, so that we could, at least, publish a review of it on this blog.
In addition, I’m told that the film, digitally-restored after 40 years since it was banned, will be traveling the country, in a re-release, with New York’s MoMA being its first stop. So, as I learn of future screenings in other cities, I’ll certainly update you all, in case it’s coming to your neck of the woods.
In short, it’s a 1971 South African actioner directed by Louis de Witt, which is said to be the first South African film with an all-black cast, inspired by the Blaxploitation film movement of the era, and made strictly with black South African audiences in mind. You can see its influences in the trailer below. Titled “Joe Bullet,” call it the South African “Shaft,” or maybe even “Sweet Sweetback,” given that, like that film, it too was made with Black audiences in mind (and who would eventually, courtesy of the Black Panthers, ensure its success), and also faced an uphill battle leading up to its eventual release, as it proved too much for the MPAA who gave it an X rating.
“Joe Bullet,” which starred Ken Gampu in the title role, was apparently also considered too much for South African movie censors, so much that they banned the film after just 2 screenings of it. As the MoMA write-up states: “Joe Bullet uses street smarts, karate chops, and an arsenal of weapons and explosives to root out corruption. The image of a gun-toting black hero who liked fast cars and quick(witted) women proved so unsettling to censors that they banned ‘Joe Bullet’ after only two screenings. Nonetheless, producer-director Tonie van der Merwe was able to convince government authorities to create a subsidy for black films, and for the next two decades, roughly 25 filmmakers made more than 1,600 so-called B-scheme movies – films that, unlike the promise of ‘Joe Bullet,’ seemed to many critics to reinforce the apartheid system of segregation and obedience.”
As I said in my piece on the “Dictionary of African Filmmakers,” for better and worse, there’s a rich history of cinema on the African continent that really begs to be *rediscovered* if only so that film enthusiasts like myself (especially given my focus on African Diaspora cinema) can gain access to and screen these films – the good, and even those that, as the MoMA quote above states, “reinforce the apartheid system of segregation and obedience.”
It’s all an education after all.
A synopsis for “Joe Bullet” reads: “When local soccer team The Eagles fall prey to a series of onslaughts from a mysterious gangster, only a week before the championship final, the team turns to the one man who can help save their chances at victory – Joe Bullet (Ken Gampu). Joe will have to battle against villainous henchmen, escape booby-trap bombs, and bring his martial arts expertise to the fore, in order to survive an attack from a deadly assassin. In the end, he will have to infiltrate the mysterious gangster’s hide-out in a dangerous cat-and-mouse rescue mission to save not only The Eagles’ 2 kidnapped star players, but that of his beautiful love interest, Beauty (Abigail Kubeka). The odds will be stacked against him, but he’s the man that fights crime, the man that no one can tie down! Joe Bullet!”
The screening of “Joe Bullet” is part of MoMa’s 12th International Festival of Film Preservation – an initiative that sheds light “on a forgotten chapter of cinema history.” It’s one of 25 of films that have been rediscovered and digitally preserved.
Check out the trailer for “Joe Bullet” below, and if you’re in NYC this Thursday, and have the time, go check it out at MoMA, starting at 4:30pm: