Richard Lukunku as Max, the leader of the most powerful gang in Sophiatown, in Back of the Moon. Picture: Supplied

Thirty years after making Freedom Square and Back of the Moon, a hard-hitting documentary about Sophiatown, award-winning director Angus Gibson decided to revisit the subject in his new movie.

Back of the Moon, set in 1958, takes the audience down memory lane with its bitter-sweet love story between Badman (Richard Lukunku), a powerful gang leader in Sophiatown, and singing sensation, Eve (Moneoa Moshesh).

Gibson explained: “I set out to make a genre film about Eve, a singing star who takes bloody revenge on the gang that kidnaps her. But in the writing with Libby Dougherty, the leader of the gang, Badman, emerged as a complex and sympathetic character.

“I had feared that the violence would swamp the love story, but in the post-production, the editors found a balance that allows both to coexist.”

The film premiered at the 40th Durban International Film Festival in July, where it won the Best South African Feature Film award.

Lukunku shared: “I didn’t think we were going to win. We had a good reception, but there were so many movies that I thought were great. So when they called us, we were all surprised. It was such an epic moment for all of us.”

He expanded on his role as Badman, how the storyline resonated with him and the lessons he hoped South Africa would take away from the film.

“Angus had lunch with different actors and told us he wanted to do a movie about Sophiatown. He said ‘I want to concentrate on the people, the culture, the truth, I just don’t want to concentrate on black and white’. When I first saw the script, I was intrigued, and I immediately said, ‘I’m down for this’.”

To prepare for the role, Lukunku retraced the footsteps of the people of Sophiatown.

“I took Lemo, who plays Ghost in the movie, and said, ‘Let’s go to Sophiatown and call up the spirits of the people who died here so that they can guide us to tell their truth’. We walked quite a long distance in Sophiatown. We had a picture of how it looked then and how it looks now. We weren’t invoking spirits, we wanted to have a true sense, to represent the people we were playing properly,” he said.

On how different Badman was from other characters he had played, he explained: “Badman’s not a stereotypical gangster. That’s what I like about him. My instinct was to play him like a gangster, and I thank God that I didn’t do that. Angus is so accommodating, he could see what I was trying to do, he sat me down, and he said: ‘I don’t think that is going to work’.”

“Badman was supposed to be a community leader. There’s a scene in the movie where one of his friends asks him if he’s going to the council meeting, and he said, ‘What has your council ever done for us? Tomorrow they’re chasing me out of my father’s house.”

He continued, “That was his world, but because he committed a crime, a principal was beating him up in a class, and he stabbed him. Then he got sent to jail, that sent him the trajectory to become a gangster.”

The actor said he hoped the film would spark debate and inspire young filmmakers to tell authentic South African stories.

“I hope that the movie will resonate with the audience because I feel like it does have a lot of parallels with what’s happening in South Africa right now.

“I hope it also inspires young filmmakers to go back and research to find out what happened to people so that even if they don’t tell a timepiece, they can do an adaptation of some of our historical films for our heritage to be preserved for generations to come.”

The film features some of South Africa’s crème de la crème from S’Dumo Mtshali, Thomas Gumede, Israel Matsepe-Zulu, Lemogang Tsipa, among others.