28 October 2022
Stream hit series and movies from Jahmil XT Qubeka
African epic fantasy series Blood Psalms is one of South Africa’s most buzzed-about TV series: #BloodPsalmsShowmax! But the buzz didn’t come out of the blue. The series is the pride and joy of local production company Yellowbone Entertainment, and the creative partnership between Jahmil XT Qubeka (Creative Director and Writer/Director) and Layla Swart (Yellowbone’s Managing Director and Producer/Editor).
When Jahmil and Layla founded Yellowbone in 2016, they had a shared vision: to reflect not only South African realities, but our possibilities and our potential. While Blood Psalms is their first series, the Yellowbone team has also produced six films, including two smash hits you can see on Showmax right now: Sew The Winter To My Skin and Knuckle City.
Blood Psalms, Western-style outlaw tale Sew The Winter To My Skin and sport-crime movie Knuckle City were all written and directed by Jahmil, who won a Peabody Award in 2005 for co-directing the Aids documentary Takalani Sesame Presents: Talk to Me. There’s no genre that scares off Jahmil, who grew up entranced by Star Wars, He Man, and The Wizard Of Oz, with his movie-loving dad.
In fact, he used 1985 sword and sorcery action flick Red Sonja as one of his touchstones for the action scenes in Blood Psalms. With Jahmil, you expect the unexpected.
In this series set in ancient Africa 11 000 years ago (and 1 000 years after the sinking of Atlantis), five tribes who fled the catastrophe “on the back of a great dragon” are hovering on the brink of a new apocalypse. The ancient gods have gathered their favourite pieces, and the board is set to play out the new end of days. There’s a mad king, a super-powered princess, an evil witch, were-hyenas, the walking dead, and so many snakes. But at its heart, Blood Psalms is really about African identity.
Jahmil reveals, “The Greek philosopher Manetho (around 300 BCE) wrote a book called The History Of Egypt. Quoting a pharaoh, maybe 1 000 years after the man supposedly existed, he says, ‘God smote us for a reason, I know not. And the children of Kemet had no other course but to turn their bare backs and buttocks against their land and move away. And the invaders who came from the east didn’t conquer our lands because we left them,” Jahmil recalls. “There’s very distinct evidence that this planet has on cycles experienced major cataclysm quite a few times. Whatever was there would have been reset, literally overnight. What would that do, collectively? What would that do to humanity to live through quite a few cycles of resetting civilisation?” he asks.
In Blood Psalms, Jahmil gives one possible answer as he shows us what became of those who fled Atlantis, and to the cultures and gods they clung to.
Watch: Jahmil discusses his inspiration for Blood Psalms
Winner of eight major awards including the Golden Horn Award for Best Achievement in Directing in a Feature Film, and South Africa’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2019, Knuckle City is an absolute knockout.
Watch: The trailer for Knuckle City
For kids like Jahmil growing up in Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape, there was an awareness that any man passing you in the street could be a Rocky, a Manny Pacquiao, a Jacob Matlala, or a Mike Tyson. And that’s what you could be, too, with luck and skill. Wrestling fans, imagine growing up with The Undertaker dating your auntie. At the time Knuckle City was made, Mdantsane was the home of 18 World Champion boxers, and a whole lot of hard luck stories.
From being an enthusiast, Jahmil transformed himself into a ringside connoisseur in the run-up to writing Knuckle City. On the technical side, Jahmil consulted with trainer Vido Madikane, and boxers Loyiso Mtiya and “Showtime” Yekeni. And the legendary Xolani Tete trained the film’s lead actor, Bongile Mantsai at Last Born Boxing Stable in Mdantsane. None of that is wasted, as director Jahmil puts the camera right in the ring, where it feels as if each punch has just missed you by a flyweight’s wing.
But if you just wanted to see boxing, you’d flip on a sports channel. Knuckle City brings us the real Battle of Mdantsane. It packs a punch about how a culture of violence, misogyny and toxic masculinity (the restrictions placed on gender that are specifically harmful to men themselves, as well as to those around them) can grow until it chokes the life out of a home and a community.
Jahmil shows that struggle through ageing, broken down boxer Dudu (Bongile Mantsai), whose father handed down to him – like the word of God – the belief that no real man neglects his family. That statement was undermined by the real physical and psychological harm that dear old dad caused Dudu and his little brother Duke (Thembekile Komani) before he died, leaving them with a twisted idea of what a man should be.
When Dudu’s gym manager tries to put him out to pasture, Dudu and Duke put their heads together to come up with a scheme to support their family financially with one last brawl. As the bell rings, the countdown begins to see whether Dudu will figure out that he’s taken the same choice that led to his father being murdered, his mother helplessly paralysed, and two small children forced to take on the world alone, far too soon.
PS: Knuckle City is a Rotten Tomatoes KO! It has a 100% approval rating on the review aggregating website.
Having won six major awards including Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Director and Golden Horn Award for Best Feature Film, this movie was also South Africa’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018.
Watch: The trailer for Sew the Winter to My Skin
This is Jahmil’s Robin Hood tale based on the true story of Boschberg stock thief John Kepe, who led police on a merry 12-year chase through the mountains surrounding Somerset East (where Jahmil’s mother lived during his childhood). John lived in a secret mountain cave that had a little spring of running water for 10 years before his arrest and execution for the murder of farm worker Dirk Goliath in 1952.
While local farmers cursed the mystery thief who had stockpiled over 100 sheepskins at the time of his arrest, to local labourers he was a hero who sometimes gave food to poor and desperate families. And for those in the know about what he might be up to, he was a symbol of resistance against the police and vicious landowners, at a time when apartheid was just being cemented into law.
Rather than focusing on hijinks and daring escapes, Jahmil’s story begins at the end, with swaggering outlaw John’s (Esra Mabengeza) emotional final days of freedom, the last chase he ever lost, and his trial – in a way that takes the Western Hero tropes and grounds them all in our violent shared history. The film is unsparing in showing the hardcore racist language and attitudes of the time, particularly in its small-town setting. But when you ground the realities of the “Man In The Black Hat” (or in this case, the pith helmet), you also make the hero’s stand more accessible.
Sew The Winter To My Skin is a tale of few words – slipping quietly from scene to scene like a sheep thief in the night – but the music features many fascinating choices, including Josef Marais’ 1946 song The Zulu Chief (which somehow became an international folk and Boy Scout favourite). The jaunty song highlights one of the film’s stand-out bizarre encounters involving a sidecar, a driver, a locust and a journalist (Bok van Blerk as Simon Potgieter, who chases down John’s story in the film) – in a scene that will really stick in your teeth.
PS: Look out for these triple threats
Bongile Mantsai: Hlengu in Blood Psalms, Dudu in Knuckle City, Fearless Rabble Rouser in Sew The Winter To My Skin
Zolisa Xaluva: Toka in Blood Psalms, Art in Knuckle City, Black Wyat Earp in Sew The Winter To My Skin
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