Cressandra Thibodeuaux

By Cressandra Thibodeaux
Publication: Creative Screenwriting
Date: Friday, February 3rd, 2006

imageSon of Man
Son of Man is a musical allegory set in South Africa during the last years of apartheid. It's a political fable, envisioning Jesus as a modern-day black revolutionary. Unlike The Passion of the Christ, which deals with Christ's persecution, torture, and crucifixion, Son of Man celebrates Christ as a compassionate leader and peacemaker. Son of Man has yet to find an American distributor, but it had its world premiere at Sundance on Jan 22.

Director Mark Dornford-May credits the creation of the fantastic musical script to the improvisational work of "Dimpho Di Kopane," a 36-member theater company created in 2001. That same year, Carmen and Yiimimangaliso, the Mysteries played at Wilton's Music Hall in London, where both productions had to be extended due to demand for tickets.

"The Mysteries," 50-year-old director Dornford-May explained, "is based on a thirteenth-century passion play, developed by the Church to teach a majority of the populace who didn't read Latin. We took these plays and developed a stage production. The original dramas were 36 hours long, but we cut them down to two hours stage time. The film script grew out of that stage production. However, it was developed through improvisation with the company. So we didn't have a script that was presented to actors. It was the actors who developed the script."

The Son of Man script became a combination of spiritualism and politics. Dornford-May, a devoted Methodist and regular churchgoer, decided not to study other films of the life of Jesus. Instead, he thought of Steve Biko, the South African anti-apartheid activist who died in 1977 while in police custody. Biko's body was carried to his grave in a pickup truck, as is Jesus in Son of Man.

Combined with its unique interpretation of the New Testament, flawless acting, and poetic cinematography, Son of Man is full of poignant traditional folk and spiritual South African songs in the Xhosa language. Actress and Associate Producer Thandiwe (Andi) Mesele explains: "We sing almost about everything in South Africa. We really wanted to use traditional songs which would also send a message."

Dornford-May adds, "Song is very important in South African culture. When people think of African music they tend to think of drums. But South Africa has, for some reason, an extraordinary vocal tradition. In fact, they're developing a new branch of clinical psychology at Cape Town Hospital based on the songs people sing."