The Swenkas

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Despite the fall of Apartheid, Johannesburg is still home to some of the worst slums in the world. While the spirit of many shanty town dwellers might have been have been crushed by all the crime and absence of opportunity in the gritty ghetto, there’s a group of blue-collar workers who have come to devote their Saturday nights to wearing their Sunday best.

These self-proclaimed Swenkas are Zulu men who stage beauty pageants in which they dance in flamboyant designer outfits in order to win the weekly grand prize. I must admit that it was a little uncomfortable in one scene watching these deferential Africans smiling and swaying in order to please a white judge, but then I thought that’s not that much different from African-Americans straightening or dyeing hair to be accepted in America.

This docudrama, which at times walks a line between fact and fiction, is compelling, regardless, because of the obvious earnestness of the contestants, each of whom exhibits an endearing innocence not to be found in this culture. Who ever thought that independence would lead to former freedom fighters doing a Fox Trot in Pierre Cardin suits? Liberation, Swenka style.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Unrated
Running time: 72 minutes
Studio: Film Forum

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