Everyone's Child is an eloquent call for action on behalf of Africa's millions of parentless children.
Through the tragic story of one Zimbabwean family devastated by AIDS, the film challenges Africans to reaffirm their tradition that an orphan becomes "Everyone's Child." Everyone's Child is the most recent production from Zimbabwe's Media for Development Trust (MFD). This prolific production company represents one significant trend among African filmmakers: producing feature films to intervene explicitly in urgent social issues. For example, MFD's first feature, Neria, which called on women to exercise their newly won legal rights against patriarchal custom, broke box office records so that eventually one in three Zimbabweans saw it.
Everyone's Child was produced in direct response to the prediction that by the year 2000 there will be over 10,000,000 AIDS orphans on the African continent. At the same time, the film focuses attention on millions of other children left homeless by civil wars or abandoned because their parents could not support them. MFD first conceived Everyone's Child as a training tape for community-based orphan care programs. But the rapid spread of AIDS made the problem so acute they felt only a feature film could place the issue at the forefront of the national agenda.
For their production team, MFD drew on some of the most creative young talent in Zimbabwe. The script was based on a story by novelist Shimmer Chinodya, author of Harvest of Thorns, and was directed by Tsitsi Dangarembga, author of the novel Nervous Condition. The exceptional soundtrack features 12 original songs by Zimbabwe's most popular musicians, including Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata and Andy "Tomato Sauce" Brown. Leading Zimbabwean actors star in the film, but many of the younger roles were played by actual streetchildren trained in a special workshop.
Everyone's Child tells the story of four siblings, Itai, Tamari, Norah and Nhamo, whose parents have both died of AIDS. After a traditional funeral, the villagers, ignoring custom, shun the orphans because of the stigma of AIDS. Their guardian, Uncle Ozias, a struggling small businessman, sells the family's plow and oxen to pay off their father's debts. Without the means to support themselves, the family inevitably disintegrates.
Itai, the eldest brother, chasing empty promises of high-paying jobs, leaves for Harare where, alone and penniless, he inevitably takes up with a gang of homeless boys. Their clothes, music and attitudes identify them as belonging to an international fraternity of forgotten youth who look to each other for family and to crime for a living.
Itai's sister, Tamari, played with moving vulnerability by Nomsa Mlambo, is left to care for her younger brother and sister. Unable to afford food, deprived of affection, she is an easy victim for the predatory shopkeeper, Mdara Shaghi. The other villagers ostracize her as a prostitute and we can't help worrying that her promiscuous "benefactor" may be exposing her to HIV infection. One night, Shaghi brutally forces Tamari to leave the two younger children alone and accompany him to a club. In her absence their house catches fire and the younger brother, Nhamo, burns to death. Only the charred remnants of his toy helicopter remain, symbolizing the ruined dreams and promise of so many of Africa's young people.
Nhamo's death finally convinces Uncle Ozias and the other villagers of their responsibility to help the three remaining children rebuild their lives. Everyone's Child offers its audience no easy answers: an official of an NGO tells the villagers that the problem of orphans is so wide-spread they cannot look to outside agencies or government for relief but must create their own self-reliant solutions.
The audience watches this painful tragedy unfold knowing there is no one but adult society (in other words themselves) who can save children like these. As the now familiar African proverb says: "It takes a village to raise a child." If a Zimbabwean film can forthrightly call upon that country's citizens to shoulder the burden of insuring adequate parenting for every child, one is left to wonder why American society with all its wealth regards this goal as hopelessly Utopian.
Everyone's Child also illustrates a controversy growing among African filmmakers. Some argue that films like Everyone's Child show the power of European funding agencies to impose their own social agendas on African directors. This, they believe, has inhibited the development of a commercially viable and hence self-reliant African film industry producing the comedies, romances and action adventures Africans would pay to see. Sub-Saharan Africa no doubt needs a commercial film industry analogous to that in Egypt, India or Hong Kong. Perhaps, it will come now that a technologically advanced South Africa can again address African markets. At the same time, there is no reason to believe hard-pressed aid organizations would feel justified in subsidizing an African entertainment industry. Nor should we expect this industry, once it exists, to produce more socially useful films than its commercial counterparts elsewhere.
The fact that films like Neria and Everyone's Child can be both popular and contain serious social messages argues that there remains the potential for building in Africa a film-going public which looks to cinema for more than mindless diversion. Is it possible that African filmmakers could take the lead in pioneering a film culture which regards film as a place for collective reflection and community building?
35mm rental available from Development Through Self Reliance (410) 579-4508.
Find out more about AIDS in Southern Africa at Treatment Action Campaign online - www.tac.org.za
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) The main objective of TAC is to campaign for greater access to HIV treatment for all South Africans, by raising public awareness and understanding about issues surrounding the availability, affordability and use of HIV treatments. http://www.ansafrica.org/ Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating the African AIDS pandemic and advancing democracy and equality in South Africa. ANSA works to make a difference through public education and mobilization, advocacy, grant-making, media campaigns and the provision of material aid.