’White Gold’ delves into the hardships facing people living with albinism
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What started off as a documentary exploring albinism in Africa has turned into a multiple award-winning movie which explores the hardships and dangerous realities for those living with the inherited genetic condition.
But White Gold, a live-action short film, which premiered at The Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles and has since received widespread international acclaim, almost didn't secure the services of the main actress who portrays the harrowing tale.
“I often don't take albinism-based stories because of the continuous stereotype in how it is often portrayed by the media, so I've always been sensitive about the kind of content I want to associate myself with,” lead local actress and model Refilwe Modiselle told The Saturday Star this week.
“When it comes to albinism content, my management is aware of my sensitivity to not just take anything because of the subject matter. But when they sent the brief to me, they knew it would intrigue me because of the storyline.”
Modiselle, who was also once nominated for Oprah Winfrey’s power list, fell in love with the story and was determined to pay justice to the role of Mansa.
“It wasn't just the typical albinism story but one that had other subject matter that people could relate to from a life lessons perspective.”
White Gold tells the tale of an albino African woman, Mansa, whose arm was hacked off by a witch doctor. Mansa hunts the witch doctor in a bid to confront him and seek revenge.
“When I took this role, I knew that I was going up for a challenge and that it would be one that would catapult me into displaying my capability as an actress,” she said.
While many would believe that the role would come naturally to Modiselle who is living with albinism, she said that was not necessarily the case.
“A lot of people would have assumed that this would have been easy because, naturally, it's an albinism role. But this wasn't the case because while I can relate to the pain of being part of a marginalised and discriminated group of people, Refilwe and Mansa are completely different.
“Their backgrounds and life experience is different and this role really stretched me and took me out of my comfort zone.
“It forced people to see me with different eyes, as opposed to how they think they've always known me to be.”
White Gold was written and directed by British film-maker Luke Bradford who initially travelled to Tanzania to conduct a documentary on the topic.
But there he met a woman named Florence whose arms were hacked off, because of the belief that the body parts of people with albinism have special powers.
Despite her forced disability, Bradford found that Florence found joy in her life. That inspired the creation of White Gold, which has gone on to win numerous prestigious awards including Best Narrative Short at The African Film Festival and Best Acting at Global Impact Film Festival.
He wanted to explore the topic because he was shocked to discover that the persecution of people with albinism persists in the 21st century, based on the mistaken belief that their body parts hold special powers. Such superstition is widely prevalent in Africa, particularly in East Africa.
“People with albinism have been persecuted, killed and dismembered and even their graves have been desecrated. And this is happening in today’s Africa, yet many are not even aware of the topic.”
Bradford was determined to make the movie even though there were challenges.
“It required pulling together an exceptional team both behind and in front of the camera and the logistics of pulling this off on a short film budget were colossal.”
After much work, the film was completed, Bradford believes that it will continue to be well received across the globe.
“White Gold is totally unique,” he said. “The characters, beautiful faces, dramatic landscapes and varied locations offer layers of authenticity that are hard to turn away from. This combined with a topic so barbaric it can surely only be a work of pure fiction, makes for a compelling watch.
“But it isn’t fiction. It’s a story based on a reality faced daily by people living with albinism in parts of Africa. This combination demands the viewer’s attention and leaves audiences in no doubt of the brutal and complex realities faced by this minority group.”
Bradford wants the film to be of educational value and to change the lives of those living with the condition.
“I want White Gold to raise much-needed awareness of the topic in the hope that the belief systems driving the trade evolve and are ultimately eradicated.
“The myths surrounding people with albinism are peddled by greed to fuel a lucrative, evil trade. People living with albinism deserve to live a life of dignity, free from the fear of being hunted for their body parts.”