“Even if you want to belong…you never really have true space”

29 October 2019

Walt Mzengi and Jo-Ann Mbulawa answering questions during a QnA session at Open Design Afrika

When he lived in the United States a few year ago, every morning Walt Mzengi had to stand up with his classmates to recite the “Pledge of Allegiance”.

Mzengi was born in Tanzania and moved to America when he was young.

One morning he decided not to stand up while his classmates were proclaiming their loyalty to the flag of the flag of the United States and the country.

Mzengi’s history teacher confronted him about his refusal to stand for the pledge.

“He asked why I wasn’t standing, I told him I was not American. He looked at me and said then leave. That sat with me for years and that’s the feeling I wanted to express with Gulf. That feeling that (as an immigrant) you have no true space, even if you want to belong. But you never really will because you are not from that place,” Mzengi says.

Gulf is a sci-fi thriller which follows the story of a young woman who flees her mismanaged home country in search of a better life. She later discovers that she would have to assimilate to her new found community, which would mean losing part of herself.

The short film by the AFDA third year student was one of several student films screened at the Black Filmmakers Film Festival hosted at Open Design Afrika this past week.


Another film part of the line up was the SEED, a short directed by AFDA’s Jo-Ann Mbulawa. The film was chosen as a selection for the Central Illinois Feminist Film Festival and the yenne Short Film Festival in New York earlier this years.

It is centered around Buhle, a young woman who is facing a difficult choice about whether she wants to conceive and dealing with pressures from the church as well as marital expectations.

Mbulawa says although this is a subject that has been portrayed in film before, it was important for her to bring it closer to home.

“I think the question for us was how do we invite women of colour to have a discussion about this conversation. You’ve seen these films like Juno where the woman says ‘I don’t want to be a mother’ and we’re like okay that’s fine. But as soon as you put a Xhosa woman into that context then it’s (taboo). I really wanted to talk about that double standard where feminism looks different for different women and when you put the church or a Xhosa context where people don’t speak about these subjects openly,” Mbulawa explains.

“It was important for me that the majority of women in this film are women who are in the same space that I’m in, who speak about these things behind closed doors but don’t dare to say it in public.”

Intro board for the Black Filmmakers Film Festival scteenings


Through its events and workshops, the Black Filmmakers Film Festival connects and showcases work by artists of colour from across the African continent.

Its screenings were hosted by Open Design Afrika, a 10-day festival promoting design and innovation.

Both Mzengi and Mbulawa believe there’s a need for more platforms to promote and celebrate work done by people of colour.

Mzengi believes this could help foster more inclusion.

“We like to make films for everybody to enjoy but at the end of the day we are black. For me I would like representation in general.

“People love authenticity, I’m attracted to authenticity, as long I see something that is authentic to someone’s experience it is always intriguing.

“I think that people should invest more of those stories rather than the stories than those are constantly told. I think we should definitely invest in something different,” he says.

Mbulawa adds more should be done to ensure access barriers to the film industry are dismantled.

“It all starts with the distribution of resources, power and space. The more black and brown bodies are in these film spaces the more films you will see which are for black and brown people,” she says.

“We are fortunate to be in a film school where we can make films like this. But there are countless other black people I’ve met who have the potential and ideas but they are stuck with their ideas because they don’t have the access they need to see them to fruition.”

The Black Filmmakers Film Festival hosts monthly screening at various venues in the city.