Popular media is pivotal in constructing the international image of a country – even if represents or sometimes distorts what the country is really like. South African blog – Safro – decided to start a database that collates how South Africa, its cities, and people are mentioned in international movies and television. It ranges from laughable to downright rude but also reveals some interesting perceptions that Hollywood has of our little corner of Africa.

According to Safro’s findings, South Africa ranks 29th in the top 30 countries referenced in movies and television, specifically in international content that’s English-speaking, not focused on or set in the country and not produced by South African studios. In Africa, it ranks only second to Egypt, which comes in at the 17th position.

60% of the references are neutral in tone, while the rest is evenly split between positive and negative. A lot of the positive references refer to Nelson Mandela and the scenery in our country, whereas much of the negative references include Apartheid, international crime for some reason and racists.

Some references you may not know about include:

  • Scrooge McDuck spent some time in South Africa’s previously-known Transvaal and his arch-nemesis Flintheart Goldglum originates from Limpopo;
  • Star Trek has a spaceship named SS Xhosa;
  • The Simpsons’ famous bully Nelson Muntz’s second name is actually ‘Mandela’.

That is not to say they are accurate – in fact many South Africans have had a chuckle or ten whenever a South African reference pops up in their favourite TV show or movie and it’s so completely wrong it verges on comedy, especially when most South African fictional characters end up being white, Afrikaans-accented villains – Black Panther case and point.

In a Castle episode, this comment is made in 2010: “There are two things in abundance in South Africa – racial hatred and diamonds.”

Other peoples from South Africa that’s also popular is the Zulu and Xhosa, the former depicted as a ‘noble savage’ that’s also apparently witches and… cannibals?

“Seems he was attached to star in Zulu Empire which was gonna anchor that MGM slate. But Warren confided in me that the picture’s gone over budget because the Zulu extras wanna unionise. They may be cannibals, but they want health and dental,” is an actual line from the 2012 movie Argo.

The Xhosa language has been borrowed a few times, most famously in Black Panther and less famously in the 1995 movie Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.

South Africa’s cities also get mentioned a lot says Safro, namely Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Pretoria. The City of Gold tends to be the background for a conference or tournament, while the Mother City is apparently thought of as being ‘snooty’ (not entirely wrong).

A Law and Order episode had the following revelation: “We’re looking to talk to a man with a snooty accent. He was in the room with your wife.

“That could be her agent. I think the guy’s from Cape Town, originally.

“South Africa. That could be snooty.”

At the least, the Irish think our accent is sexy.

Pretoria, however, had only one reference in the last 20 years, but quite a memorable one in RoboCop in 1987 – as “a fictional independent city-state ruled by a white military government willing to use French-made neutron bombs as a last line of defense.” For that time, probably accurate.

If you want to read more about Safro’s analysis of South Africa’s image in popular media, check out their website.

Gabi Zietsman / Traveller 24

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Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 9744 posts

We are about democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

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