Joe Bullet was the first black action movie made in South Africa in the 70s. Though it had a straightforward storyline, it was very symbolic because it featured an all-black cast. Across the world, the 70s was a key time in African Cinema and South Africa contributed its own quota to our ever rich cinema history. It was a time when Blacks could look at the screen and see someone of their skin color as a hero, dogged, daring and strong, fighting hard for what he wanted and getting it in the end – the happy ending.
Joe Bullet, a Soweto film, centers on the titular hero, played by Ken Gampu (Zulu Dawn, The Wild Geese). When local soccer team The Eagles suffer a series of mysterious attacks in the week leading up to a championship match, Joe is on the case. The taciturn tough guy proceeds to punch his way through a series of action sequences, eventually mounting a rescue mission to win back not only the team’s two star players, but also love interest Beauty (singer Abigail Kubeka).
The film was screened about three times and then banned by the apartheid regime in 1973 after it’s last screening. There were sparse records about the reason for the ban. Although the ban was lifted a year later, faith was lost and the local distributor gave up on the film.
In 2013, van der Merwe and Ben Cowley of the Cape Town-based entertainment company, Gravel Road Entertainment met up to discuss potential collaboration and van der Merwe mentioned that he still possessed the original film. It was a historic piece of art and Ben Cowley and his team undertook the challenge to restore the film. The restored film premiered at 2014’s Durban Film Festival, before going on to play at other festivals around the world, including the 2015 Sydney Film Festival.
When you weigh the context of its production and history, you can’t deny that Joe Bullet is a strong piece of art in the world of cinema history, a tale of our past and how far we have come. Joe Bullet is our very own, James Bond.
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Featured Image: Retro Afrika