Going to the movies for the first time was a landmark moment in many ways. Living during the ‘Group Areas Act’ era in South Africa meant living in racially segregated suburbs. Going to the Grand Theatre on the upper end of town implied being in the same space – somewhat anyway with white residents. This anticipated visit to the Grand Theatre generated tremendous excitement in a young child’s world to see, yes that’s right, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves!’
Apart from being a momentous event in a young child’s life, it came as an awakening event that dwells deep in memory resurfacing with vigour when situations trigger the enlivening of such a memory.
Two queues lined up to buy tickets for the show – one ‘Whites only’ queue, the other, ‘Non- Whites only’ just as the local park benches and public toilets were labelled. This negative, exclusion labelling applied to the airport arrival and departure terminals areas too.
The stares across the racially segregated ticket purchase queues are remembered with the awkwardness and need to keep one’s eyes downcast for fear – fear that if the stare was returned it might be perceived as ‘doing the wrong thing, an unlawful act’ – such was the fear the dark child of apartheid felt.
Entry into the movie theatre, needless to say, had its separate entrance too, this time the Non-White entrance led to a flight of 100 steps up to the gallery. Non-Whites had to sit in the upstairs gallery while White patrons to the theatre sat in spacious seats downstairs. In the early teenage years this ignited the child’s connection to Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ when Tom Robinson was on trial. Non-White folk were confined to the upstairs gallery in the tightly packed Maycomb courthouse as was the segregation at the Grand Theatre in the dark days of apartheid South Africa.
Peering over the upstairs railing from the high in the sky gallery, childlike curiosity prompted the voyeur within to see how ‘the other side lived’. Thinking back to that moment stirs the soul with sadness, the distance between the upstairs gallery out of sight from the downstairs gallery, a hundred steps up – no stairway to heaven for an asthmatic child or ageing grandparent who joined grandchildren on this momentous visit to the movies.
Snow White and the dwarves transported the child into a magical world leaving behind the racially divided queues and hidden away, out of view, sky-high seating.
Growing up in a racially aware, politicised home where Nelson Mandela’s release from prison lived in the hearts and minds of most adults had a huge impact on the child. Non-White parents put aside their deeply felt grievances with grace and dignity to ensure their children were not denied the joys of seeing and experiencing the fairy tales they loved come to life on the silver screen, albeit in a racially segregated theatre so far removed from the reality of their daily lives.
Social justice was born from a perception of deeply felt social injustice in the child’s psyche on that very day, the day that Snow White made her debut on the big screen in a little town in South Africa.
Atticus Finch soon became Nelson Mandela of the Rainbow Nation where black and white exploded into a palette of many colours merging in love, acceptance, kindness and tolerance.
Such were the days of the child’s early childhood in a country racially divided, decreed by the law of the land.
Walk away from hatred and unkindness, you deserve better, you have much to offer the world, walk away with grace and dignity to preserve your soul, walk away to love, acceptance and kindness, walk away to a better world that awaits you…- MN
We all have stories to tell. What’s your story?