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The cultural politics of adaptation: Fools and the politics of gender

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The shifts in the priorities of literary and cultural theory and criticism were already underway in the South African academy by the end of the 1980s, with the gathering momentum of the mass political movement reaching its apotheosis with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990. Whereas creative literary and cultural expression has often lagged behind advances in theory, there was nevertheless a steady acknowledgement of the necessity for a corresponding shift in the discursive character of the creative arts, even if the material conditions on the ground remained largely unchanged. Ramadan Suleman’s film Fools, which appeared in 1997 as an adaptation of Njabulo Ndebele’s 1983 novella by the same title, entered the fray with its argument for a new or, as it were, broader consciousness of the deeper, more complex legacy of ‘sexual violence’. This legacy included the weak ‘place of women in the everyday life of the township’ (Suleman 1995: 1), and indeed in the very idea of ‘the everyday’ that some in literary and cultural circles sought to inscribe.1 This article provides an assessment of the nature and extent of the film’s intervention in the context of the systematic breakdown of the old certainties of race, identity and nation post-apartheid, together with the literary-critical cultures and apparatuses that presided over their coherences and raptures. I take as my starting point Robert Stam and Louise Spence’s (1983: 3) assertion that ‘[a]though […] those questions bearing on the cinematic industry, its processes of production, distribution and exhibition’ – in short, questions bearing on ‘the contextual’ – are of ‘crucial importance’, they need to be tempered with those bearing on the ‘textual and intertextual’ (emphasis in the original). Fools is a film that enters the textual and contextual terrain of Ndebele’s novella, but in doing so contests its textuality by shifting its narrative ground and voice.

Keywords: adaptation; body; gender; masculinity; space; spectatorship; translation; violence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Johannesburg

Publication date: April 1, 2015

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  • The Journal of African Cinemas will explore the interactions of visual and verbal narratives in African film. It recognizes the shifting paradigms that have defined and continue to define African cinemas. Identity and perception are interrogated in relation to their positions within diverse African film languages. The editors are seeking papers that expound on the identity or identities of Africa and its peoples represented in film.
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