The Star / 23 October 2017, 11:52am / Lauren Jensik
In the wake of George Michael’s shocking death last December, a documentary, which aired last night on the BBC, strives to answer questions about one of the world’s most iconic and reclusive artists.
A screening of the film, titled George Michael: Freedom, was held at the MultiChoice headquarters in Parktown, Joburg on Thursday night.
Freedom, both directed and produced by Michael, was the final project of the singer’s controversial career.
“He was a gay man. He was a convict. But on top of that, he was a philanthropist. He was a soul man. He was everything that you can get from an artist, a great artist,” said Nigel King of Sony Music Strategic Marketing.
For those in attendance on Thursday, the screening was a trip down memory lane. From Michael’s early days as one half of the 1980s duo WHAM!, to world domination as a solo artist with albums like Faith and Listen Without Prejudice, to becoming open and honest about his sexuality, the documentary elicited cheers, laughter and applause from the audience.
Throughout the peaks and valleys of his career, Michael maintained a loyal fan base in South Africa.
“I think people will respond positively because I think South Africans naturally are drawn to truth and authentic-ness,” said Shireez Latief, senior marketing manager for BBC Worldwide.
“He was authentically who he was.
"Perhaps in the 1980s it was a little bit different, but now we have such big respect for him, and we see him for his music and also the fact that he was so brave to just be who he was, and I think we really respect and salute him for that.”
As the documentary conveys, maintaining his authenticity in an industry that prioritised record sales over artistic integrity was one of Michael’s biggest challenges.
In the early 1990s he sued his record label, Sony, in order to shed the pre-packaged sex symbol persona he didn’t identify with.
His hit single Freedom! '90 revealed his need to be more than just another pretty face on MTV.
Instead of appearing in the song’s video, he had several of the decade’s biggest supermodels lip-sync in his place.
He also came out publicly as a gay artist, and advocated for LGBT rights and Aids awareness.
“When George Michael passed, I was quite shocked to see the people and the age group and the diversity of people who have responded because generally we don’t talk about just general artists every day,” said Latief.
“Everybody went to social media and I was really surprised to see that it was a diverse audience that really spread emotion and spoke about it.”
The documentary, which was completed by Michael’s manager after his death, features many of the singer’s close friends and colleagues, including Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Ricky Gervais, Kate Moss and Mary J Blige.
Freedom also coincides with the release of a new album, Listen Without Prejudice/MTV Unplugged (Deluxe).