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Researching and Teaching Controversial Subjects:
A Mini-Forum


Revisiting the Gods Must Be Crazy: Revealing the complexity of apartheid South Africa with a comedy classic.

Zackry T. Farmer


     A number of years ago I was surprised to find out how many of my students, many of whom were born in the early 1990s, were very familiar with the film the The Gods Must Be Crazy. This was encouraging to me at first, because they were taking an interest in South African history and watching a film created well before they were born. It also disturbed me because they were blissfully unaware of the very real problems with the film ranging from both sins of omission (Homelands and brutal police crackdowns are left unaddressed) and sins of commission (the director added additional clicks to the San people to make the language sound more exotic).

     When teaching a subject as complex as apartheid, instructors will often spend lots of time looking for the perfect movie. They look for a film that captures the complexity and pushes to the forefront issues students need to be made aware of, but may not have had the opportunity to examine on their own. The complex and powerful 2005 film Tsotsi is great for looking at post apartheid South Africa, as are a host of other films. But why not look for a movie filmed in southern Africa during the apartheid era? Furthermore, why attempt to find the perfect movie when it is so easy to find one that is tragically flawed and typifies films viewed by both South Africans and millions of Americans. With some effort from the instructor, a flawed movie created during the apartheid era can lend itself to instruction and engage students in ways the perfect film could never do. This is especially true if so many of our students have already seen the movie in question. Using an inadequate film in the classroom can help instructors expose the flaws, take their examination to another level, elevate the discourse within the classroom, and challenge many of their student's preconceived notions. This essay will examine the film The Gods Must Be Crazy as a film to be used in the class. I will reveal some of the most egregious problems with the film's depiction of South Africa during the apartheid era. I have used this film in both World History and Twentieth Century World History classrooms with students ranging from 9th year freshmen year to 12th year seniors, and when examined properly, I believe this film can be a useful tool.

     The Gods Must Be Crazy is not only a comedy; it is a visual artifact providing viewers with a snapshot of South Africa in the 1980s. 1 Yet, the snapshot is most interesting for what was not filmed and the absence of many important issues. First, the film was not only successful in South Africa, but grossed millions world-wide. It influenced viewers in the early 1980s and, due to cable television and streaming video, influences viewers today. Second, the film ignores the plight of the Homelands. The San people are repeatedly shown as healthy hunter-gatherers, but by the 1970s very few of them could support themselves in the traditional way. The San had a high death rate due to terrible living conditions and even depression, yet the film does not reveal any of this to the viewer.2 At the time of the filming, the apartheid system distributed all the peoples of South Africa into racial groups and legislated that each had its own culture while making white culture dominate. The government deemed all whites (British and Afrikaner3) unified and broke up the many African groups into ten independent nations each with their own homeland.4 The film never shows the reality of the Homelands and the nation-wide policy of apartheid that dominated South Africa from 1948 until its collapse in the early 1990s. The third issue to be dealt with is the political oppression of the majority black population and the United States' unwillingness to do anything about it. While the director of the film claimed the film was apolitical, it in no way depicts the brutal suppression and in many cases the killing of political activists. Still relevant in the minds of viewers in the early 1980s, Steve Biko's high profile death gets overlooked by students. They need to be made aware that Biko was brutally murdered by the South African police in 1977, but the only images of the police and judicial system are both generous and kind. The subject of black rights does not come up in the film and instructors will need to make sure their students understand that while the black population of South Africa always had a dominate population, in 1980 the African population numbered 72 %, Colored (mixed race) 9%, Indians 3%, and Whites 16%, they were deprived the right to participate politically in any meaningful way.5 Africans did not have the right to vote until the collapse of the apartheid state. The first free and open elections in 1994 brought to office Nelson Mandela. American students will be interested to know their government did little to halt the oppression and of the majority population of South Africa. Lastly, the film perpetuates the idea that black South Africans are dangerous and incompetent, and should never be allowed to rule themselves. This is most evident in the assassination attempt of the African government at the beginning of the film and the subsequent chase scene that follows as well as the portrayal of the black terrorists who eventually take a classroom full of students and their teacher hostage. There are a host of other very important topics instructors may wish to explore with their classes before they show the film.

A Very Successful Distortion

     The Gods Must Be Crazy is an important film because of its popularity and World History instructors can use this film to explore the depth of the apartheid era. Released in South Africa in 1980 and in the United States in 1981 and a rerelease in 1984, The Gods Must Be Crazy was the largest grossing film produced under the South African film subsidy program which produced 275 movies from 1910- 1985.6 In 1982, it was the highest grossing film in Japan and grossed millions world-wide. Critics claim the film subsidy program was used to legitimize apartheid and present it as "a natural way of life."7 The star director in the film subsidy program was Jamie Uys who said the film was nothing more than a comedy and was, by all accounts, "the only full-time moviemaker, and the only one with any international distribution."8 Once in the United States the film became a hit even while the director took heavy criticism for its racial overtones, method of production and its exclusion of the homelands.9 For Uys, the film was a comedy, to others the film was a small part in the creation of a living memory of South Africa for audiences around the world. Moviegoers left theatres with a positive image of South Africa and a memory of a place few visited but felt they understood. Again, instructors will need to emphasize to their classes the enormous holes in the film as Uys chose to leave out all of South Africa's apartheid policies. This is troubling because the film is still seen in syndication, rented in video stores, and even streamed online. It still influences thought regarding South Africa and may be the only lasting image viewers had of the region. Since The Gods Must Be Crazy was the most successful film in the South African government subsidy program, it was the most important film in the attempts to legitimize apartheid for viewers around the world. Receiving praise for its "slap-stick" humor and scorn for its lack of political discourse, The Gods Must Be Crazy is a useful tool for teachers looking to explore the depths of South Africa in the 1980s.10

Worlds Collide

     The Gods Must Be Crazy is a comedy set in the early 1980s among the rural portions of southern Africa, specifically in and near the San Homelands in the Kalahari Desert. Uys chooses not to show the terrible living conditions and isolation of the San people, instead he uses stereotypical and anachronistic versions of the San people for comedic effect. In the film, a San bushman11 named !Xi is pulled by the forces of globalization into the modern world when he finds a Coca-Cola bottle.12 One man's trash literally becomes another man's treasure. According to the narrator who does most of the translations for !Xi, the bottle is at first a welcomed addition to the village. It has a variety of purposes but one serious drawback, the gods only gave the village one; the bottle is so useful to the villagers that it soon drives a wedge between the previously harmonious people. The film's narrator informs the viewer that until the "thing" arrived, they did not need it, but they now found it indispensable. !Xi decides to take the bottle to the edge of the Earth to give it back to the gods. The character of !Xi, and his fellow villagers, are used in juxtaposition to the "civilized" world. The villagers are the noble savages focused on family and village first and foremost with no crime and total focus on the community. In the white dominated "civilized" world, working for money and worrying about material possessions have robbed people of the simple pleasures enjoyed by the San. Again, according to the narrator, !Xi and his people understand and do not want any part of the "civilized" world; even trash is not good enough for the Kalahari. The films reinforces the government policy of apartheid that said Africans should have their own Homelands in which to practice their own culture. This culture was seen by the Nationalist government to be inferior to the Afrikaner culture which required the black population and other minorities to carry passes with them everywhere they went and tried repeatedly to allow in only the workers they wanted and keep out the families of workers. According to Leonard Thompson at its peak, 381,858 Africans were arrested in a single year for violating the pass laws but over 100,000 were arrested every year.13 In a strange example of this, !Xi must also leave his family behind as he travels into the "civilized" world and eventually work for an Afrikaner zoologist.

     Once on his way, !Xi meets his future employer and fellow travelers, zoologist Andrew Steyn and the teacher he is escorting, Miss Kate Thompson. Steyn is a lonely, bumbling, and socially awkward scientist. Thompson has recently abandoned her "civilized" life in Johannesburg as a journalist to begin a new life teaching in rural Botswana. The movie takes an interesting turn as her class is abducted by revolutionaries. The zoologist, !Xi, and the zoologist's mechanic/assistant, Mpudi, form an integrated team that cooperates in order to save the class. !Xi is then free to return to his world only after he has thrown the bottle off the edge of the Earth, a beautiful shot of God's Window on the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga, South Africa. In the end the zoologist "gets the girl," and !Xi returns to his family, escaping the confines of the modern world, again forcing him into the role of the noble savage. The last thing the viewer sees of !Xi is him leaving a pile of money behind before he returns, much happier, to his family even while the actor was being paid very poorly by Uys himself.

     The director used a narrator to interpret the events featured in the film in a documentary style, thus enhancing the illusion of authenticity and reality. Steyn helps Miss Thompson understand rural Botswana, !Xi learns about the civilized world from Mpudi, Steyn, and a series of unfortunate mishaps. Though he translates for !Xi and his fellow villagers, he never translates for the other characters. This will give instructors another opportunity to discuss western bias in mainstream movies. The documentary style of The Gods Must Be Crazy was also used in Uys's earlier film Animals are Beautiful People, (1974), and again in The Gods Must Be Crazy II, (1989).14 The choice by Uys to include a documentary-style narration works as a comedic vehicle, but angered many American moviegoers who felt the San people were dehumanized. This was compounded by the fact that Uys won the Hollywood Foreign Press Association award for Best Documentary in 1974 for his work on Animals, which gave this comedy more credibility in the eyes of viewers.15 As scholar Vivian C. Sobchack pointed out, a modern motion picture "is not as superfluous, unreliable, or uninformative as the casual observer might think, nor is the documentary as inherently historical or objective," and therefore the motion picture must be interpreted as a biased constructions of choices made by the director, in this case Uys.16 Historian Nicholas Pronay agreed with Sobchack when he argued that there was no "intrinsic difference between 'fiction' and 'factual' films as records of mass-communication."17

     Uys tried to recapture the success of The Gods Must Be Crazy in 1989 with the release of The Gods Must Be Crazy II. In this film an American lawyer replaces the South African journalist as the female lead and !Xi's kids take on a more prominent role in the film. N!Xau's character in this film is named Xixo (translated as older than !Xi) as he reprises his role as the hero from the first film. This time he must retrieve his own children before returning home.18 The myth of the San as a noble people that can only retain their own culture if they are left alone in the Homelandsis but one flaw instructors will need to address while teaching the topic of apartheid in South Africa.

     While critics suggested his film was laced with political ideology, Uys regularly denied it contained a deliberate agenda. The notion that the film contained political rhetoric crept up again and again, forcing the director to defend himself repeatedly. In 1985, Uys told the New York Times that the film was "just a slap-stick comedy, with no message." Political messages, he observed, were "bad for business."19 Regardless of the director's statements of innocence, his words did not settle the issue for critics, journalists, or academics. The American viewing public had trouble resolving the competing images they witnessed of South Africa; the lighthearted playground of !Xi in the bush, and the urban battleground revealed on the nightly news in the United States.

     Uys's credibility received yet another blow during the American release of the film, and word got out that he distorted the story of his first encounter with N!Xau, the actor who played Xi. In 1984, Uys claimed to be only the second white man to know N!Xau.20 Uys's statement was later contradicted by documentary film director John Marshall who had chronicled the San people in the Kalahari for over forty years. Marshall knew N!Xau and blamed Uys for distorting the truth to reporters for the sake of promoting the film. Marshall told historian Peter Davis in an interview that for Uys to stretch the truth in order to tell a story was fine but the problem began when Uys told reporters N!Xau really lived the way he was portrayed in the movie.21 Marshall also stated that N!Xau "earned his living by cooking for the children at the school in Tsumkwe,22" and was not semi-nomadic as Uys portrayed him and his people. While viewers might feel a closeness to the character !Xi, they would never see or understand the plight of N!Xau, his people, nor the San way of life. Instructors will want to point out to their class globalization and the exploitation of people by the movie industry in general; Uys is not the only director to misuse and under pay local actors. While the film grossed millions world-wide, N!Xau and his fellow actors were not adequately compensated: N!Xau was paid less than $2000 for his efforts in the film.23

     According to anthropologist Toby Alice Volkman, N!Xau was easy to find. He did not live where Uys claimed. Uys liked to tell people he had to fly over a thousand miles and light a signal fire in order to contact N!Xau. Volkman's experience was much easier as she simply went to his home in Namibia in his Homeland of Bushmanland where he worked as a cook for the local school.24 Volkman's primary concern was the charm of the movie and its ability to perpetuate myths and metaphors about the San people, which is the very reason this film needs to be taught in classrooms today. These myths and their accompanying arguments allowed the South African government to continue to deprive them of their autonomy, their history and their land, along with all the other minorities that lived within South Africa's borders.25 Journalists and scholars alike attacked Uys's depiction of the San as innocent children reflecting outdated stereotypes. A theme prominent in the film, Steyn dresses !Xi in children's clothes to sneak up on the rebels and picks him up like a child to place him on the hood of the Land Rover after he is released from prison. Volkman described Uys's mistaken memory as an example of how Uys "wished for Bushman world that bears no resemblance to reality."26 This is best captured in one of the film's final scenes where Steyn tries to pay !Xi for his work:

Mpudi: He says thank you, and goodbye, and hopes you have lots of children.
Steyn: Tell him thanks, and to take this...
Mpudi: He can't use that stuff.
Steyn: But I have to...
Mpudi: Bushmen don't know about money.
Steyn: Well, what else can I give him...?
Mpudi: There's nothing here he can use. Bushmen don't need these things.27

     The real problem critics saw with the film was its hiding reality from its viewers and perpetuating the Afrikaner myth that the San were a hopelessly ignorant race happier in the bush than in the real world. Most white South Africans and few outsiders did not visit the Bantustans, and perhaps the director felt it better to portray the San as they once were, instead of revealing for his audience the "true" San lifestyle. It might be argued that Uys's films brought renewed interest to the plight of the bushmen who otherwise would not have received media attention. Whether it was the director's intention or not The Gods Must Be Crazy created an interest in the San people and their real experiences. I feel by taking the time in class to reexamine the film, it will once again renew an interest in South Africa's most oppressed peoples.

United States/ South African Relations

     Because this film was the largest grossing foreign film in U.S. history and considering the close economic and political partnership being cultivated between the United States and South African governments, it is important for instructors to examine that transnational partnership that began with apartheid's inception in 1948 until the late 1980s. The South African government's anticommunist stance afforded the United States a much desired ally in southern Africa both militarily and economically. The Cold War mentality that motivated the United States to action in Southeast Asia and Central and South America was driving it to support another repressive regime in South Africa.28 Fear of the spread of communism prompted the United States to not only attempt to contain but defeat global communism wherever it existed. The Reagan Administration was content with its stance on apartheid and with its relationship with the South African government.

     The apartheid government of President P.W. Botha (1978-1989) promised reform in order to appease foreign governments who threatened economic sanctions that would have undermined the South African economy. In a 1985 interview, President Reagan reported progress in Botha's orchestration of an end to apartheid.29 Reagan expressed his belief that a non-violent end to the apartheid system was still possible, and denied allegations that he ever condoned the brutal and oppressive actions of the apartheid government.30 By September 1985, antiapartheid groups in America grew impatient. Seeing no significant change in South Africa's political system, Reagan issued Executive Order 12532--, "Prohibiting Trade and Certain other Transactions Involving South Africa," but this had little effect.31 President Reagan told the press that he believed he was doing the right thing by not imposing stronger sanctions against the apartheid government and the U.S. congress eventually had to override his Presidential veto in 1986 to impose the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act which finally imposed economic sanctions against the South African government.32 This order ended the half-decade long waiting game Reagan played with the South African government.

A Danger to Themselves and Others

     While the film attracted attention for its negative depictions of the San people, it was the film's Cold War message that first drew my attention to the film. The portrayal of communists in the film strikes the viewer as odd and out of place in a slap-stick comedy, as the film revolves around the story of love and humor. The bumbling communist guerillas represented by Uys in The Gods Must Be Crazy were an obvious depiction of the troubles facing the South African government in Namibia which it had controlled since 1920. One scholar saw the representation of the communist guerillas as part of the much wider myth of "Cuba [as an] 'exporter of revolution' [and] that even black governments are not safe from communism."33 This depiction of the rebels as both dangerous and incompetent fits in with the South African government's arguments with the international community regarding strict control of both Namibia and South Africa. Because blacks outnumbered whites by a large majority, white South Africans feared majority rule and, at best incompetent rule of the black majority, and at worst a dangerous if not impossible place for white South Africans to live. To Davis, "the threat is not only to blacks but to the white race personified in the heroine. To save black and white alike, white organizational skills must mobilize all indigenous peoples" or all of South Africa would be in danger of being overrun.34

     The leader of the revolutionaries is a character named Sam Boga, a name similar enough to the head of the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO), Sam Nujoma. The image of the SWAPO leader enhanced the resemblance between the communists in the movie and those facing the apartheid government in Namibia. To historian Kenyan Tomaselli, the connection between the "real" communist leader and the one represented in the movie was no coincidence.35 Another scholar, Peter Davis, saw the leader of the communists in the movie as evidence of the fear many white South Africans had of the rise of majority rule in South Africa.36 Fear of majority rule was synonymous with the creation of the apartheid state that saw total racial partition of South Africa as the only way to preserve the Afrikaner nation.37 Of course, racially segregating South Africa could only be accomplished by laws and force. Here, a second derivative of Boga can be found in Afrikaans. The word for a police bull-whip is a sjambok. Sam Boga wields an inverted power over the community and government and plays on the government's arguments that black South Africans must be oppressed and kept removed from white South Africa because they were a dangerous threat.38 Thus a close reading of the film draws a sharp parallel between the "real" South Africa that existed in the 1980s and the fairy tale image presented in Uys comedy.

     Fear of communism drove the apartheid government to outlaw the South African Communist Party in 1950. As prominent historian, Allister Sparks, noted the South African Communist Party always supported the actions of the Soviet Union from "Stalinism to the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan."39 The apartheid government used the threat of communism for the purpose of tightly controlling Namibia. The passage of the Suppression of Communism Act was made "broad to cover any calls for radical change" within South Africa.40 That change was well on its way and the growing strength of strikes in 1984 were devastating the South African economy.41 The increase not only brought a renewed use of force by the South African Police (SAP), but also brought unwanted attention to the apartheid system. The film does not reveal any of this, but world history students will find the transnational relationship an interesting topic.

     During the 1970s and 1980s, President Botha and the South African government played up the communist threat in order to elicit support from the United States. By placing South Africa at the heart of the global communist struggle, Botha hoped to shift the focus of media coverage away from domestic issues and instead make their focus South Africa's struggle to resist SWAPO forces in Namibia.

     Students need to be made aware that in the early 1980s, the United States government pressed for reform and even increased "military, economic, and diplomatic ties, [while portraying] South Africa's reforms in a positive light to the America people."42 International pressure on the apartheid regime increased as strikes and protests received more and more coverage globally, but again none of this is present in the film. Uys again relied on comedy to hide the very real fear of the Nationalist government of black majority rule in South Africa. Again and again Africans are either shown to be dangerous terrorists or inept government leaders.


     In order to get the most out of this film in class, instructors will also want to spend some time explaining the role the director played in the making of this film. Jamie Uys captured the hearts of both the foreign press and moviegoers and became a bright spot in an otherwise grim international view of South Africa. The 1981 International Film Guide listed Uys as "one of South Africa's truly original creative talents" and felt Uys's work should be seen more often.43 It should be noted that Uys won several awards for his work on The Gods Must Be Crazy, including the 1981 Grand Prix at the Festival International du Film de Comedy Vevey, 1983 Most Popular Film at the Montreal World Film Festival, and again in 1985 where he won the Young Artist Award for Best Foreign Film. Uys was also nominated but did not win the César Award in France for Best Foreign Film in 1984.44

     When The Gods Must Be Crazy was originally released in the United States in 1981, it failed to draw a large audience. American public awareness regarding South Africa's condition was growing while the film was released a second time in 1984. While American moviegoers seemed content to laugh at The Gods Must Be Crazy, questions about the film's content continued to surface. A film review by New York Times columnist Vincent Canby questioned the director's motives in his comedy that depicted a life in South Africa so different than what was seen on the nightly news. However, Canby eventually looked favorably on the film and explained to his readers that he thought, "it's safe to guess that Mr. Uys is certainly neither a racist nor an apologist."45 Tomaselli captured the fullness of the film when he stated

"Quite simply, different people create their own mental texts
about the film. Those aware of how the myth was made and
who lean towards intense anti-racist feelings have read their
interpretations into Uys's films. Conversely, those unaware
of the myths, or who negotiate their readings of the myths
mobilized, tend to respond less aggressively, and are able to
derive some pleasure from the film without losing their antagonism
to racism. For those who have no expectation, and who may know
nothing about the San and the devastating circumstances… the film
may establish inaccurate perceptions about the San, Afrikaners,
whites, blacks, and others."46

     By 1984 the relationship between the United States and South Africa grew strained with antiapartheid protests gaining momentum and one anonymous protester, a white South African, stated that it was unforgivable to make a movie about life in South Africa and "never question apartheid… you should know there is something very wrong."47 Uys was known in the United States as a light-hearted moviemaker and the South African government supported the well-respected director in their subsidy program which proved to be a wise move considering his broad appeal, though his image was later tarnished. The 1995 Halliwell's Film Guide listed The Gods Must Be Crazy as politically insensitive, hinting at the problems the director encountered with his depiction of race in the years after its successful run.48 However, this came nearly a decade after the film's initial success and only after the apartheid government collapsed.

     Many antiapartheid films, such as A Dry White Season, The Power of One, and Cry, Freedom, do more to promote interracial harmony and rightly demonize the deplorable apartheid regime. While Uys's film pretends "that apartheid does not exist," overtly political films did not receive anywhere close to the attention nor the financial success of The Gods Must Be Crazy. The film did show viewers a desegregated working environment early in the film. Furthermore, the Afrikaner zoologist not only works with !Xi to disarm the revolutionaries, but also lives and works with a mixed race man and treats him as a friend. One of the films strongest points in this is the positive role !Xi possesses. He is the hero of the film, even while playing the role of the noble savage, who not only rescues the school children and their teacher, but in the end preserves his pre-modern world, which in reality only exists to keep blacks and whites segregated. While antiapartheid films tend to focus on lives of liberal whites and their trials and tribulations, Uys's film does put !Xi as the hero. But even these positives will be lost if the viewer watches the film with little to no knowledge of the complexity and brutality of the apartheid state.

     Uys always maintained The Gods Must Be Crazy was created to entertain and that he left out apartheid and political messages on purpose. However, the film became a visual artifact capturing the complexity of the apartheid era. Revealing the harsh realities of apartheid would have made Uys a hero to antiapartheid groups, but may have left the director looking for work outside of his homeland and an enemy of the South African government. Furthermore, the movie was an undeniable hit that provoked debate and influenced public opinion around the world. When placed within the context of a collapsing communist regime in the Soviet Union and an aging but still very power apartheid regime in South Africa, the film takes on weighted significance. This only happens today if instructors take the time to critically examine the film and teach the real history of apartheid side-by-side.

     With its release to DVD in 2004, The Gods Must Be Crazy continues to shape and reshape the historical memory of South Africa for its viewers. In its thirtieth year, the film exists as a visual artifact placing 1980s South Africa in the minds of viewers as one without complex issues and without the apartheid state. I recommend this film to any instructor who wants a comedy that will engage students and bring interest and attention to an underrepresented topic in world history. 49

Additional Documents

The following is an example of some of the documents I use in class in conjunction with the film.

"Deaths in Detention, 1984," "The Biko Inquest, 1977," "The National Party Native Minister Explains Apartheid, 1950," in John A. Williams, From the South African Past: Narratives, Documents, and Debates (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997)

"Blacks in a White Man's Africa" in James H. Overfield, Sources of Twentieth-Century Global

History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002)

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the film The Gods Must Be Crazy reinforce negative stenotypes regarding Africans?

  2. What are the cultural differences between whites and blacks and !Xi and his family? Based on what we read in the textbook, are these differences real or fictionalized?

  3. How does the scenes involving !Xi in the South African judicial system differ from the accounts in "Death in Detention"?

  4. How does the film's representation of the Homeland echo the arguments made by Jan Smuts, "Rhodes Memorial Lecture" and Hendrik F. Verwoerd, "The National Party Native Minister Explains Apartheid"?

  5. How would a film about the reality of the Homelands differ from the one presented in the film?

  6. Miscommunication is a key issue in The Gods Must Be Crazy, How does this reflect the film's theme of the clash of civilizations?

  7. Why do you think the director chose to use an interpreter for !Xi but not for the white characters? Does this reflect bias in the director?

  8. Who was the target audience for this film (white South Africans or Americans)? Did that make a difference in the choices the director made regarding racial stereotypes?

  9. The director Jamie Uys claimed the film was not political, do you think the film was just a slap-stick comedy? Why or why not?

Zackry T. Farmer received his M.A. in history from Georgia State University in 2006. He currently teaches history at George Walton Academy in Monroe Georgia focusing on World History, Twentieth Century History, and A. P. European History. He can be reached at


Danaher, Kevin. The Political Economy of U.S. Policy Toward South Africa. Boulder: Westview Press, 1985.

Davis, Peter. In Darkest Hollywood: Exploring the Jungles of Cinema's South Africa. Randburg: Ohio University Press, 1996.

Giannetti, Louis. Understanding Movies. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1996.

Gugler, Josef. African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. New York: Harper Resource, 1998.

"The Gods Must Be Crazy." Internet Movie Database.

O'Connor, John E. "History in Images/Images in History: Reflections on the Importance of Film and Television Study for an Understanding of the Past." The American Historical Review 93(December 1988): 1200-1209.

Omer-Cooper, J. D., History of Southern Africa. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1994.

Pronay, Nicholas. "The 'Moving Picture' and Historical Research." Journal of Contemporary History 18/3 (July 1983): 365-395.

Sobchack, Vivian C. "Beyond Visual Aids: American Film as American Culture." American Quarterly 32/3 (1980): 280-300.

Sparks, Allister. The Mind of South Africa. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Sparks, Allister. Tomorrow is Another Country. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Tomaselli, Keyon. The Cinema of Apartheid. New York: Smyrna Press, 1988.

Tomaselli, Keyon. "The Cinema of Jamie Uys," in Movies-- Moguls—Mavericks: South African Cinema, 1989-1991, ed. J. Blignaut and M. Botha. Johannesburg: Showdata, 1992.

U.S. President, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, 1980-1988. Ronald Reagan, 1985.

Uys, Jamie. The Gods Must Be Crazy. Produced and directed by Jamie Uys. 109 min. Mimosa Films, 1980. DVD and Videocassette.

Variety International Film Guide. London: Andre Deutsch, 1981.

Volkman, Toby Alice. "The Gods Must Be Crazy: A Film Review." American Anthropologist 87 (June 1985): 482-484.

Volkman, Toby Alice. "Out of South Africa: The Gods Must Be Crazy," in Image Ethics: The Moral Rights of Subjects in Photographs, Film and Television, ed. Larry Cross, Press, 1988.

Walker, John, ed. Halliwell's Film Guide. New York: HarperPerennial, 1995.


1 John O'Connor makes a good argument that because films are historical documents they must also be placed in their historical context. See John O'Connor, "History in Images/Images in History," The American Historical Review 93 (Dec, 1988): 1200.

2 Toby Alice Volkman, "Out of South Africa: The Gods Must Be Crazy," in Image Ethics: The Moral Rights of Subjects in Photographs, Film and Television, Larry Cross, John Katz and Jay Ruby ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 243.

3 Afrikaner is a name the white South Africans gave to themselves to distinguish themselves from the white English population. The term also reinforces the long held belief that the Afrikaners were a separate African tribe. This term and idea of separateness helped to justify the apartheid system.

4 Leonard Thompson, A History of Southern Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 190.

5 Ibid, 278.

6 Keyon Tomaselli, The Cinema of Apartheid (New York: Smyrna Press, 1988), 261-270.

7 Tomaselli, The Cinema of Apartheid, 11.

8 Klemesrud, "the Gods Must Be Crazy" – a Truly International Hit," 15.

9 The Homelands were designed from a policy which segregated the South Africa's races and fractured black South Africans along ethnic lines. In 1953 Parliament passed the Reservations of Separate Amenities Act that guaranteed equal living quarters with the 1971 Bantu Homelands Constitution Act which allowed the South African government to wash its hands of the black homeland problems of poverty, crime, and corruption.

10 The film grossed $30,031,783 in the U.S.A. from July 1984- March 1986. The film grossed $4,294,852 in Germany, $1,873,459.60 in South Africa, and over $100,000,000 million world-wide. "The Gods Must Be Crazy," Internet Movie Database,

11 Bushman was the name given to the San people who inhabited the southern portion of Africa by the Dutch in the early seventeenth century. It refers to their status as a backward Khoi another ethnic group, that lived apart from civilization in the bush or wilderness and foraged for their food. For a further explanation see J.D. Omer-Cooper, History of Southern Africa (Portsmouth: Heinemann Press, 1994).

12 ! represents the click sound used in some southern African languages.

13 Thompson, A History of Southern Africa, 193.

14 The Gods must Be Crazy II grossed $6,291,444 in the United States which was a major drop off from the first film. There were five total films in the series, only the first two made their way to theater in the United States. "The Gods Must Be Crazy," Internet Movie Database,

15 Ibid.

16 Vivian Sobchack, "Beyond Visual Aids: American Film as American Culture," American Quarterly 32 (Spring 1980): 293.

17 Nicholas Pronay, "The 'Moving Picture' and Historical Research," Journal of Contemporary History 18 (July 1983): 369.

18 Tomaselli, The Cinema of Jamie Uys, 210.

19 Ibid.

20 Judy Klemesrud, "the Gods Must Be Crazy" – a Truly International Hit," the New York Times, 20 April 1985, Arts and Leisure, 15.

21 Peter Davis, In Darkest Hollywood: Exploring the Jungles of Cinema's South Africa (Randburg: Ohio University Press, 1996), 89.

22 Ibid., 90.

23"The Gods Must Be Crazy," Internet Movie Database,

24 Toby Alice Volkman, "Out of South Africa: The Gods Must Be Crazy," in Image Ethics: The Moral Rights of Subjects in Photographs, Film and Television, Larry Cross, John Katz and Jay Ruby ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 247.

25 Ibid, 247.

26 Toby Alice Volkman, "Out of South Africa: The Gods Must Be Crazy, 240.

27 The Gods Must Be Crazy, prod. and dir. Jamie Uys, 109 min., Mimosa Films, 1980, DVD and Videocassette.

28 This was a similar relationship, for the sake of fighting global communism, which created an alliance between the United States and other rulers (e.g., Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the Marcos in the Philippines and the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic).

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., 382.

31 Ibid., 1058.

32 Ronald Reagan, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United State, (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, 1988), 381.

33Tomaselli, "The Cinema of Jamie Uys," in Movies- Moguls- Mavericks, 209.

34 Davis quoted in Volkman, "Out of South Africa," 239.

35 Ibid., 209.

36 Davis, In Darkest Hollywood., 84.

37 Sparks, The Mind of South Africa, 178.

38 Davis, In Darkest Hollywood, 51.

39 Ibid, 366.

40 Omer-Cooper, History of Southern Africa, 202.

41 Ibid.

42 Danaher, The Political Economy, 192.

43 Varity International Film Guide (London: The Tantivy Press, 1981), 266.

44 "The Gods Must Be Crazy," Internet Movie Database,

45 Ibid.

46 Tomaselli, "The Cinema of Jamie Uys," 228.

47 Perry Lang, "Film Called Racist," San Francisco Chronicle, 8 December 1985, sec.A, 17.

48 John Walker, ed., Halliwell's Film Guide (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995), 435.


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