Bopha! (1993)


Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) is a policeman in apartheid-era South Africa who suffers a crisis of conscience after he finds out that his son, played by Maynard Eziashi (A Good Man in Africa), has joined a clandestine anti-apartheid group.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Bopha is a Zulu word meaning either arrest or detention.”

Bopha! is a remarkably effective and powerful political drama. A compelling narrative and uniformly great performances work together to create a harrowing look at life in South Africa in the early 1980s.

Bopha! is a gem among the many apartheid films of the era. Cry Freedom (1987), A Dry White Season (1988) and Disney’s Sarafina! (1992) immediately come to my mind whenever I think of apartheid-themed movies. However, Bopha! stands out from the crowd as the only one produced and directed by African-American artists.

Based on a 1986 stage play by Percy Mtwa, Bopha! was produced by comedian Arsenio Hall (Coming to America). Actor Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption) directed the movie. Although it garnered good reviews, Bopha! was a notorious box office failure (incidentally, Cry Freedom, A Dry White Season and Sarafina! lost money too), forcing both Hall and Freeman to return to their day jobs.

It’s a pity because this is a really good movie. Bopha! astutely explores big and complex political issues through the perspective of an ordinary South African family. As a matter of fact, I struggled to come up with a valid complaint. I even found the admittedly predictable ending quite satisfying.

Danny Glover gives one of his best performances as the honest and proud cop who finds out a little too late that no one can serve two masters. Glover is such a smart actor. In lesser hands, the role of the father/cop would have come across as being foolish and stubborn. But Glover allows the audience to see his character’s soul — he is a decent man who is simply trying to do what he thinks is right.

Glover gets some fierce competition from Alfre Woodard (Cross Creek and Star Trek: First Contact), who is superb as Glover’s overly-patient wife. Woodard, who always gives the impression that she isn’t acting at all, is brilliant as the wife and mother who is caught between the husband’s pragmatism and the son’s activism.

Maynard Eziashi is excellent as Glover and Woodard’s rebellious son. Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) and Robin Smith (Invictus) are positively creepy as the symbols of the oppressive government. Malick Bowens (Out of Africa) is commanding as the leader of the resistance. The excellent music is by James Horner (Titanic). David Watkin’s (Chariots of Fire) cinematography is a big plus too.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

A wise person once said, “Explaining a complex concept is an art form.” The best compliment I can give the film is that it somehow manages to convey complex political and social issues in a simple manner. Bopha! perfectly illustrates the brutality of life under apartheid in South Africa. This would make for a great double-feature with Sounder (1972). Highly recommended! Color, 118 minutes, Rated PG-13.

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