20/09/2021 Carmen Amos

The Inclusion Solution with Sabelo Mahlangu

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

How far has our industry come in terms of diversity, inclusion and transformation? 

There is much debate around this topic internationally and here in South Africa, particularly within the film industry. On the one hand, a great amount of progress has been made by those seeking change but on another, not enough is being done to facilitate and sustain that change for the future. 

The current “inclusion delusion” seems to be short-term and inauthentic, focusing on the optics instead of real long-term sustainable transformation. Finding women and people of colour in senior HOD positions is not happening on the scale it should be, which is why having conversations that turn into actions is critical to the success of meaningful transformation.    

Earlier this month we had a chat with our fellow industry colleague, Sabelo Mahlangu, the executive producer and partner of The Rudeboy Collective. Sabelo is one of the top film producers in the country with a passion for storytelling. Together with his creative partner, Mpho Twala, the duo are committed to sharing the African narrative through commercials, brand films and other forms of entertainment.

The Rudeboy Collective champion diversity by contributing actively to a transformed culture through up-skilling and developing young filmmakers and raw talent. 

THE INCLUSION SOLUTION WITH SABELO MAHLANGU: 

Tell us about your history and how you got into the Film Industry?

I am a filmmaker. I started as a character – being cast in various commercials. I was always connected to the film industry or rather the visual side of the industry. My dad was a sports photographer so I was always exposed to TV. I did a lot of work in TV and in media where we produced a lot of jazz events, producing content – so in the past 18 years I have been firmly involved in the film industry, just in different capacities. Over the past 10 years it has mainly been commercials. 

Do you feel like your journey was supported?

My business partner right now was a big supporter of that journey. We were always trying to connect via production work and see how we could do things. So, I think the support from strangers at that point in the industry, to becoming really good friends, feeling like family, and working together. 

The biggest support I had was from Mpho Twala. Outside of that, no. We live in such a closed off industry. As a black kid in 2002 looking for work, there were more questions about you coming in rather than you doing the work or actually learning or experiencing anything, so the support was minimal.  I think it is very personal to a lot of people, so with that, it becomes very difficult to pull out the support from those who are in the industry who should be supporting new entrants in the industry, especially entrants that don’t necessarily look like them.

What has been more valuable in your career- your education or your experience?

Completely my experience. Getting down and dirty and actually doing the work itself. Using logic and figuring out how things work, like all the departments and roles in the system helps you to understand better and to be better at whatever it is that you do as a contributor to our industry. Experience is about 99% of everything, because that is where you meet the great people in this industry. From thereon it is the inspiration and the experience that you get that will make you better.


Do you think that the industry is more welcoming to the youngsters of colour?

No… I think the main response would be no. There are many individuals out there who are playing their part in enabling others to be part of our industry in a meaningful way with the intention to develop these skills. In general, looking at the film industry and outside of the film industry – we will never win if all the young black kids are interns for 5 years.

We see it with women in general as well. The entry into the game – you’re an intern, you start low and for 5 years you are going to be there because that is how people can get the best out of you. The benefit thereof is one sided and short lived. After the internship, the industry is very quick to spit people out. One bad word and everyone takes it on and you’ve got no movement.

If someone is learning, they are going to have bad moments, bad moments are experiences, experience means that you will get better. Passion is a massive part of this game – if you don’t have the passion, you’re bringing in people who don’t have the passion. Be able to see it through, be able to filter that in and be able to guide that person into a space that will be more inclusive of them. Make is something that they themselves would want to be a part of. The whole idea of bringing people into your space is for you to be able to build stronger relationships and for everyone to come out of there better. Whatever happens, let’s give the people the wings and let them fly!

What are your thoughts around transformation in our industry?

The general racial issue is there and it hasn’t gone anywhere. It hasn’t been managed better in any way. We’re talking about transformation and inclusion in 2021 especially in the CPA.  where we have someone like Martin talking to everyone else about BEE. You look around the room and there is only one black person or one person of colour. Everyone else is white. We haven’t really seen any good results.

I am not saying that people don’t have the intention to change things but unfortunately time tells a true story and when we look back, there is very little that has been done.

Transformation is not only about black and POC people benefitting or gaining. It is about an entire ecosystem where you can get good value. We all have our limitations because the world has said “be afraid to get in through that door”. Even with women taking the leap and the chances. Women have gone through so much, and the idea is that if we are all in  a better place, including the ones that have been excluded then we can double our industry and the value in our industry. The creativity, the resolve, and the solutions – bringing in all sorts of other people who add value to our pot.

What are your thoughts around some of the solutions we can take? 

Firstly, it is how you see the next person. If you see a black person and/or a woman as equal then you are including them in the process. Whatever it is, wherever they are, whatever the circumstances – if you don’t greet the lady that cleans your office or your home outside in the street, then you have a problem. Inclusivity is about acknowledging the next person and being able to listen to them.

You have women and POC people coming from different backgrounds – listen to them with their experiences and their strong ideas. You will get something out of that. If they need to explain or express in their language, find a way to listen and understand because that is where you will get true authenticity. That is part of diversity and inclusion – being able to listen and seeing others the same. From there the results will speak for itself. 

We just need solutions, and it is important that those that want to be part of the solution put their hands up and sincerely so. And those who don’t want to be, should also put their hands up so that we can turn our heads and look to the ones that want to be part of the solution. There is no time for anyone else who doesn’t want to do anything to help our country grow. The end result of this would be that we become the best in whatever else we are trying to do.

What would you say has been your biggest career highlight?

If I have inspired a few out there, if they believe in themselves a bit more because they have seen me in whatever capacity – I think that’s the highlight. If anything, it would be Rudeboy – everyday is a proud moment.

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