The People vs Patriarchy // a film about the effects of patriarchy in South Africa

Director Lebogang Rasethaba and producer Jasmyn Asvat teamed up together to create a one hour long film commissioned by MTV/MTV Base titled The People vs Patriarchy which explores the lived experiences as a result of patriarchy. Jasmyn explained that this film was aimed at young people, with the intention of getting people to have conversations about the violence that results from how this system operates on a day to day basis.

“We tried to keep it focused on the key issues that we as South African’s are faced with daily and keep it accessible to the youth who do not have the language to understand the theory,” explained Jasmyn.

The title for the film was a continuation of Lebogang’s The People vs The Rainbow Nation. When asked about what “people” refers to in the title Lebogang explained that it refers to all the people who are affected by patriarchy. “And I guess that’s all of us,” he explained. Jasmyn expressed that “people” in the context of the film refers to young people.

Jasmyn explained that the issues that were addressed in the film were those brought up by the people who were interviewed. “We filmed the issues that people raised. Violence is a massive problem for our womxn so it is reflected in the film.” Realizing the limits that a one hour film presents in terms of the kinds of issues that can be unpacked, Jasmyn wishes they would have been able to deal with the nuances that race, homophobia, family structures, disabilities as well as reproductive and sexual rights add to the debate. “Maybe the term Kyriarchy [a term that extends patriarchy to encompass and connect to other structures of oppression and privilege] would’ve been better to use!! One thing I would love to tackle in the future is the male feminist figure and its importance to healing men and dismantling the system,” she expressed.

When asked about the people included in the film, and the decision to include these specific people, Lebogang expressed that, “The people we chose represent a cross section of South African’s who are at different stages of the journey with engaging patriarchy.” Interwoven with the interviews of people expressing their thoughts is footage that has been shared on the internet displaying acts of violence against women. The significance of this is that it allows a connection to be made between conversations about patriarchy and how it unfolds on a daily basis. “People need to connect the dots of how something seemingly innocent, normal and pervasive like the statement ‘boys will be boys’ is linked to gender-based violence. Lots of us still fail to make the connection between patriarchy and violence and abuse,” Lebogang explained.

“I just want people to see how people patriarchy is getting in the way and how we [will] all benefit from dismantling it. On another level a lot of people don’t even know what patriarchy is so it’s going to be educational and informative. Young people need the tools to have the conversation. Hopefully this film is that.”

We asked gender expert Motlatsi Khosi, who attended the screening of The People vs Patriarchy, to share her thoughts about the film and the broader conversation about patriarchy in South Africa.

What do you think about the title ‘The People vs Patriarchy’?

I went to the screening at Monte Casino. On my way there, to the left, Comedy Central was doing a show. I was to go to an event also hosted by an American brand, MTV/MTV Base and so I start thinking that American Corporates are making strides in the  South African Media industry. So when I entered the theatre I see cameras and the MTV banner. I asked myself who are the ‘people’ in the title when America is in the room throwing their money into independent filmmakers. I also then start to wonder to whose patriarchy are they making reference. Remember that Patriarchy come from a certain understanding of how power dynamics are distributed unequally. Feminism is used to explain such but then who decides which feminism is the one we use to understand the (South) Africa situation.  Our situation has to be understood in terms of the particular challenges faced in our country, especially that of who holds the land.

At first glance, who did you imagine the ‘people’ to be? After watching the film, do you think that your understanding of ‘people’ is the same as what ‘people’ appeared to refer to in the film?

The poster is very “clear” on who the people are. It features black blurry male faces shouting in anger. We see a topless woman standing before them in defiance with her back against the viewer next to what looks like police in militarized gear. During the Q n A the panelists which included the director Lebogang Rasethaba and representatives from the Viacom Media Network, the company of which own MTV and MTV base. Jasmyn Asvat, the film’s producer would respond to the question asked by an attendee on why that particular choice of poster. The attendee stated how the poster occurred at a fees must fall protest and yet they would use it in a piece that does not engage with that protests.  Jasmyn responded with how that picture represented a theme of throughout the movie of how black woman’s bodies are in constant threat. Her exposed body symbolizing her vulnerability to the dangers of everyday life.

Another attendee would later mention that she was actually the woman in the poster. She mentioned how she was not consulted on the use of her image which to this day still triggers her where ever she sees it. She described the moment in the picture, explaining how she was actually using her body to protect those men, by acting as a barrier between them and the police.

The filmmakers clearly had their own idea of who ‘the people’ are and throughout the film they make constant reference to black men and their violence against woman.

From watching the trailer, it appears that the main issues being addressed are the violence womxn have to face as well as the men are trash vs not all men conversations. What are some of the nuances within these conversations that you would like to highlight? Do you think these nuances are teased out in the film?

The trailer as well as the film says some shocking and hard to take in conversations. Yet my query is on how we are to take in this deluge of shock and violence as viewers? I ask the panelists on what it is they had made because I found it very problematic that they kept switching between ‘film’ and ‘documentary’. These are distinct practices, the latter of which requires journalistic means in which to engage with the ideas and opinions expressed within. I asked that question for particular reason as the latter automatically assumes an ethical position over how to present ideas of the interviewee. This is important because there is the danger in highlighting only Black men’s problematic views of the issue which the film/documentary clearly does. So, yes men can be trash and they show an interview with the hidden face of a black body identified as “Abuser” and the ideas of a man identified as “reformed abuser” but these need to be contextualized. Yes man can be trash but they can also be so much more. The movie had no discussion on how woman, particularly black woman and queer bodies, navigated these spaces and express their sexuality in such a harsh environment. The film/documentary missing the discussion on where do we go on from here because just like the woman who stated that she used her body as a shield, Black men are also our “allies”.

What are some of the prominent debates related to gender in South Africa right now? How do you think a film like ‘People vs Patriarchy’ could contributes to these debates?

One of the things said by the Viacom representative in response to my query is that they could not deal with all the issues mentioned in the questions. He stated how they needed to make content that speaks to everyone and that they needed to keep the discussions within the movie simple. Yet a viewer behind me would mention within her question how she had been recently raped and how that experience affected her. She is one woman amongst many who are raped. Men and boys are also raped. What about being LGBTQI in this country, they are also at the receiving end of this violence. Their voices were excluded from this conversation. Is it even possible to have discussions around these issues amongst ourselves let alone the media in a manner that is #keepitsimple?

After watching the film, what were some of the most striking moments for you? And why?

For me what was most striking about the film was what happened to me and my friends after the screening. The respondents and especially the Viacom representative on the panel were clear that this movie should spark debates about these issues and that they hoped people would gain a better understanding of such issues surrounding the film.

My friends and I were discussing the Film/documentary and this middle aged white man just interjected into our vibrant discussion. He accused me of being rude for asking such “hard questions”. I basically told this to tell this fellow in a very nice way to “fuck off” and was about to argue as to why his views are problematic. He then ran away before he engage with his comment and did not even explain what was so rude about my question. I’ll say this, the movie gets us talking but does it really challenge who gets to talk and who can feel safe in their discussions about these issues, particularly as black woman in white spaces?

How do you feel about a man heading a film about patriarchy?

Throughout the whole Q n A Lebogang was sitting “man spread” on his chair. His demeanor was one of a petulant child being forced to engage with adults. The MC made the claim that this was a safe space. How can it be so when this very male director is engaging with woman who are also sharing their experiences of trauma in such a manner. I won’t say any more.

Continuing with the previous question, within the conversations about gender in South Africa who are some of the prominent voices? Why are they the prominent voices? Do you think the film reflects this?

The very issue of the prominence of certain voices within the film/documentary makes me unable to answer the question. It was mentioned in the panel that they want to move away from academic discussions surrounding the issue and yet would still show the views of university lectures. In another space we see young people, prominent figures within Joburg’s cultural and activist spaces. Yet the same jargon used by them was one very reminiscent of an academic space. Then there would be a group of young woman in a shack talking about their stories but using very different concepts to the previous two spaces. The real question we should be asking ourselves is of who gets to decide over whose voices are prominent  and why their voices always manage to be heard in such platforms and others are excluded?

In conversations about patriarchy, do you think that the thoughts expressed by men and womxn should have equal weight within a film such as ‘People vs Patriarchy’, even if the men identify themselves as allies?

The problem with the film is how it depicts this relationship [between] black men and woman. Black woman are the ones sharing their experiences of trauma. We have black men constantly talking about their experiences as both perpetrator and reformed perpetrators. Only twice do we hear an actual white voice, that of the academic and a doe-eyed white boy whose opinion had already been mentioned. I will state this again, the real question is over who gets to decide which voices are heard and which are excluded.

What is your feeling about men identifying as allies?

My father is a black man! My brothers and boy cousins are the men I grew up with. Some of my best friends are men (chuckles to self). The real issue at hand should be on understanding and defining how we want to be treated as woman by the men we engage with. The struggle is not just one about patriarchy, decolonization and white supremacy are words thrown around also in the film/documentary. We have to live and work those who are trash but at the same time they are our lovers and family member. To just talks about ally ship would be a misinterpretation of how the black body actually engages in the world.

What was your overall feeling towards the film? What is this feeling a reflection of?

One of the viewers mentioned how just because he was a part of that “rotten bunch” it did not mean that he himself was not “rotten”.  I have nothing to add to that.

Anything else you would like to express that you think was not addressed in the above questions?

I urge all to get a hold of the film/documentary. Since this movie is made for the people I have no idea how the people without DSTV will be able to access it. But hey, the people are good at organizing.

Below is the trailer for the film:

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