South African model and TV personality Refilwe Modiselle brings to life the painful story of Mansa, an African woman with albinism, in her first lead a role in the international short film, White Gold.
Penned and directed by UK based filmmaker Luke Bradford, White Gold follows a tragic sequence of events with Mansa getting an arm hacked as the result of misconceptions around this genetic disorder.
She then seeks out Natron, played by veteran actor Aubrey Makola, a witchdoctor, who robbed her of her security, career and dignity.
Shot on location in Walkerville, South of Joburg, the film was inspired by a true event that took place in Tanzania, East Africa.
Chatting to Bradford from his UK home, the award-winning director shares, “In 2016, I was shooting a documentary in Tanzania and I met a missionary couple from Texas, who runs an organisation that provides necessary aid for people living with albinism.
“Through them, I met a young woman who had both her arms hacked off in her own home.” Bradford says the encounter with the young woman left a mark on him.
Fast forward to 2019, Bradford entered a film competition, which he won and was given a budget to shoot a short film. During the casting stage, Bradford came across Refilwe Modiselle’s audition tape and he was immediately blown away by her.
He reveals, “There’s an emotional level that the character has to reach in the film which I think a lot of actors would find difficult to reach. And she (Modiselle) reached that in the audition. She brought my vision of the story to life. She gave me goosebumps watching her audition tape.”
The film recently made the official selection for RapidLion 2020 in Joburg and it has been accepted into the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.
No stranger to the film and television space, Modiselle bagged cameo roles in "Tell Me Sweet Something", "Generations", "The River", "Check Coast" and "Mzansi Love".
Expanding on her first big role, the Soweto-born star explains, ” The budget wasn’t big for this film, so there was the question of ‘do you do it out of the love of the story or is money a thing for you’ and I went with the story because when I first read the script I knew right then and there that this was the story wanted to be a part of you.”
She adds, “I also wanted to challenge myself because nobody had seen me in that space as an actress.
"I had to strip down completely, I’ve always been seen as a ‘doll, or model’. This role, it needed me to take everything off. I had to bare all.” The 34-year-old star also opened up about getting into character for "White Gold".
She shares, “I had to learn how to use a prosthetic arm. So even the dynamic of doing the film, there was a lot that I had to learn. Also putting myself into a space of a person with disability because how do you do anything with only one hand. There’s a scene where I’m doing the washing with my feet and one arm.
“In another scene, we were shooting in an actual market in Walkerville and here I was with a prosthetic arm, trying to sell vegetables. You look at how people stare at you. Also, with special effects make-up, my hair was a mess because I really had to look like a woman scorned. Mansa was painful to play.”
Modiselle says she hopes the film will spark necessary conversations around the plight and senseless killings of people with albinism on the continent. “There is an unnecessary layer of suffering from people with albinism in various parts of Africa. And it’s something that is purely based on greed. And it needs to stop,” she says.
She adds, “Crazy as this may sound, this film was therapeutic for me. Playing Mansa forced me to dig up things from my past which were painful so that I could tap into her pain.”
Bradford adds. “For the next 18 months, the film will be touring the world. So I have made it available to some top tier festivals, the Oscar- qualifying festivals.”
Asked if there any plans for developing this short film into a full feature film? “Absolutely. The story completely lends itself to being developed further in different ways. So that is it currently in development and I’m writing the feature script now.
"But obviously, that depends on finances and production companies that are interested in taking the story further but there’s already interest being shown in the UK based on just the trailer alone.”