Sarafina! (1992)

Genres - Drama, Musical  |   Sub-Genres - Musical Drama  |   Release Date - Sep 18, 1992 (USA - Limited), Sep 25, 1992 (USA)  |   Run Time - 117 min.  |   Countries - France , United Kingdom , United States , South Africa   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Sarafina! is at times rousing and moving, but both sensations dissipate shortly after the credits roll. The same can be said of Mbongeni Ngema's uplifting songs, which blend tribal customs with stage musical sensibilities; in the moment, they get the toes tapping, but don't linger in the viewer's humming subconscious. The result is that this well-intentioned musical study of the most intense period of Afrikaaner oppression has the feel of something that might have carried greater significance, instead of ending up as a cinematic footnote. Its general dismissal could also stem from the fact that the South African atrocities lag behind other world tragedies in audience awareness level, so the subject matter has a harder time tapping into an existing sense of collective mourning. Leleti Khumalo excels in the role of the conflicted title character, and some of the images are both stark and unsettling. In fact, if a greater audience had sought out Sarafina!, there's a good chance it would have found fervent backers. As is, it may just be too foreign for American audiences, which require a more direct relevance to their own lives for a story to achieve critical resonance.