In the parched wilderness, six hundred miles away from civilization, Bushmen continue to exist; environed by nature and family, they live a lifestyle some denounce as “savage.” In truth, the natives inhabiting the Kalahari Desert are “the most content people in the world” (Uys 0:02:54). However, as human beings, they too can stumble on unfamiliar behaviors. In this case, they are influenced by an item as strange and superficial as a Coca-Cola bottle. Despite sanctioned segregation transpiring in South Africa, the 1980’s allegorical comedy, The Gods Must Be Crazy, directed and written by Jamie Uys, portrays a diverse selection of cultures through a selfless and humorous story-line of human interplay. Uys depicts a fun tale of a bushman, Xi, played by N!xau, on a walkabout-like quest to reach the “edge” of the world, to rid an evil gift bestowed upon his tribe. En route to restore serenity, he casually encounters persons whom he presumes are almighty Gods rather than the next-door, sophisticated, blue-collar urbanites. The collective witty liaison that each character shares with one another ridicules the ludicrous notions of apartheid.
For centuries humans have annihilated one another over collateral differences that are indeed biologically shared by all. Amidst the devastating era of African colonization, invaders not only diminished treasured traditions, but they altogether enslaved African citizens. As if claiming private and personal property was not enough, conquerors, especially in South Africa, further mandated legal bigotry against its own people. The statutory division known as apartheid permitted higher status to the white conquerors, leaving the Africans to become second-class citizens and legitimately inferior in their own home; this system “racially classified individuals and then denied fundamental human rights” (Tutu). Similar to the racial caste system, Jim Crow laws, once granted in the United States, sought “to limit the aspirations of blacks” as well as emphasize a ferocious means of law enforcement (Auguste). Apartheid’s stigma included its derogatory laws, not to mention its ironic intent declared on paper as a “call for equal development and freedom of cultural expression” (Sahistory). The powerful force of the divergent protesters shone heavily on its immorality, and they ceaselessly objected to the senseless law’s false representation, exposing its irony. In spite of this disaster, the making of the film The Gods Must Be Crazy persisted.
The merging powers of both the privileged and underprivileged flared heightened resistance against ignorant segregation, extending hope and inspiration. It proved such an inspiration that director Uys administers humor through casting diversified actors and designing their exceptional personas in his mockumentary. The film paints a relationship between two distinct cultures assisting one another notwithstanding their cultural barriers. The “pretty, dainty, small and graceful” Bushmen and the white “civilized man” differ in language, appearance and demeanor (Uys, 00:01:33). Xi’s tribe does not recognize aggression or animosity; nevertheless, they have no need to claim ownership because they live collectively, enjoying and praising nature. On the other hand, “civilized man refused to adapt himself to his environment, and instead he built his environment to suit him” (Uys, 00:06:12). The two very different groups have a peculiar encounter that spawns an incredible adventure. Xi’s mission leads him to stumble on the “gods,” jaunty microbiologist Andrew Steyn and his mechanic Mpudi. Although at first they have a slight misunderstanding, later they befriend one another and genuinely offer compassion and empathy toward Xi. Interestingly, Mpudi alone has previously experienced a miraculous interchange among the Bushmen. It appears to have further advanced his level of moral development and sense of understanding to the environment around him (Kohlberg), not to mention enabling him to comprehend their unique click-like utterances. The irresistibly engaging bond forms between these men as they find themselves helping one another on a deeper level than they previously imagined. So, as the two bizarre societies clash, spontaneous hospitality sparks instead of hostility.
The idiosyncratic friendship that ignites between the Bushman and the two civilized men demonstrates Uys’s opinion on naturally peaceful human interactions and benevolent selflessness. Even though apartheid was staunchly advocated and enclosed around the production of the film, Uys still “violates” a few of its regulations and proceeds forward. A segment of the heinous law suggests that, “to have a friendship with someone of a different race generally brought suspicion upon you, or worse” (Sahistory). Regardless, the film advanced. Uys persisted in writing the story of solidarity between two people who do not share similar culture but do share the same tongue. Xi embarks his journey in the sophisticated land but finds himself surrounded by “societal rules” that are invisible in his eyes. He and his tribe believe in a universal religion similar to that of the Australian Aborigines, that is, Dreamtime: where all living spirits are “part of one vast unchanging network of relationship which can be traced to the Great Spirit ancestors” (Dreamtime). Because he believes in universal sharing, he unintentionally attempts to feast on another’s goat. Much as he innocently tries to share it with the owner himself, he sadly winds up enclosed behind walls. Mpudi, being the only “civilized man” who can communicate Xi’s language, defends him in court but fails to keep him out of jail. The mechanic was devastated so he confides to Steyn announcing that Xi, “gonna die for sure. He never seen a wall in his life, now he got walls all round him… I want to get him out” (Uys, 1:23:54). The dedication put into rescuing the innocent Bushman acts as a foundation forging a cherished bond. The two men put their privileges and work aside to allow a voice to the one who was misunderstood. This theme of altruism infused with comedy repeats all over.
Omitting the imposed genocidal creed, South African director Uys defies its absurd dogma extracting it with humor. The comically brilliant film emphasizes natural responses all humans have at least experienced once, such as clumsiness and awkwardness. These traits are specifically enacted by the amusing character of Andrew Steyn. The film entails abrupt funny moments that build the plot. Steyn’s persona stands out the most and highlights his silly behavior, especially aside the glowing character of Kate Thompson. Uys hilariously dramatizes his particular attribute: “His inability to purport himself … creates sexual tension, and even portrays Andrew as clumsy and dumb [;] in reality, he is merely trying to accommodate Kate in an environment that she is not accustomed to” (Gottwald, Par.5). In addition to Steyn, Xi is also a hilarious character. Since he comes from a complete paradoxical lifestyle compared to the modern world, his discovery of modern innovations is playfully exhibited. Mpudi teaches Xi how to ride one of the vehicles, and Steyn later asks him to drive it. Xi’s attempt is not successful at first, but when he drives facing backwards, it humorously works out for him. It is impressive to watch him struggle but succeed with modern gadgets (Uys, 1:32:12). In rendering humor, Uys creates scenes with Steyn’s persona and includes Xi’s innocence and complete disorientation as part of the human emotion that anyone, regardless of race, can relate to. In an interview with the New York Times, Uys states, “Everybody’s funny, whether white, black or brown… you like to see the funny side of the human condition, and you don’t see their color'' (Klemesrud). This is the unofficial theme and purpose of his film, and Uys made sure to emphasize the propensity of humor within each persona, again disregarding notions of apartheid.
The art of bravery is another major theme that Uys brushes upon. Saturated with the humor of each psyche, selfless acts are displayed all throughout the story line. An unrecognized heroine in this plot is Kate Thompson. She illustrates incredible valor. In the beginning of the film she relinquishes her journalism occupation to teach in a small town that gravely lacks instructors. Andrew Steyn becomes her guide to the village, but her determination further prompts her to risk her own life to save the ones of her small pupils. The villain, Sam Boga, threatens the lives of children to save his own and helpless Kate is bearing the dilemma on her own. She loudly expresses the needs of her children, regardless of her being captive with them as well. “The children need to rest.” Moreover, tempting the leader, she proclaims, “Are you scared you’ll spoil your image if you admit you let them escape?” (Uys, 1:26:45). In her moments of gallantry, she constantly provides agency and comfort toward the young. Again, she too abandons her privileges when she decides to teach a minority group. Similar to the legendary Neerja Bhanot, who lost her life protecting children on her flight from a hijacker’s bullets, Kate risks her existence to shield children without question as well (Neerja). When affiliated with a crisis, charting through it “demonstrates how a heightened vulnerability signals the emergence of a potential strength, creating a dangerous opportunity for growth” (Gilligan p.139). These actions require concealing narcissistic impulses, that in turn, ignite a realm of empathy and altruism.
The ferocious intruders have unimaginably ruptured South Africa ruthlessly implying explicit commands to separate skin from soul and disguise respect with neglect. Nevertheless, the dynamic voices that roar across the globe, in spite of an injustice, reflect a deeper, larger comprehension of a post-colonial and post-conventional moral awareness (Kohlberg). Uys applies such consciousness through the intimate alliances that the hilarious and courageous characters possess, as well as indirectly defying the laws of apartheid. Being extraordinary souls enfleshed in capable and mighty bodies, we must accept and celebrate the differences we bear for the real pursuit of the film is to help us lift the burdens from one another.
Auguste, Ralph. “Apartheid vs Jim Crow.” Academia.edu - Share Research, www.academia.edu/10496111/Apartheid_vs_Jim_Crow.
Baden, Graham T. “Film Analysis - The Gods Must Be Crazy.” Regarding Race, Nation, and Our Future, 5 May 2015, http://grahambaden.com/2014/04/04/the-gods-must-be-crazy/ .
Bhanot, Neerja. Pan American Pursuer. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neerja_Bhanot.
Dreamtime. “Dreamtime Meaning.” Aboriginal Art & Culture Alice Springs Australia, www.aboriginalart.com.au/culture/dreamtime2.html.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Harvard University Press, 2016.
Gordon, Kirpal. Class discussion 2 Feb. 2018.
Gottwald, Benny. “Putting Masculinity on the Chopping Block”. Taking Giant Steps. Feb.6, 2018.
Klemesrud, Judy. “'The Gods Must Be Crazy’ -A Truly International Hit.” The New York Times, 28 Apr. 1985, www.nytimes.com/1985/04/28/movies/the-gods-must-be-crazy-a-truly-international-hit.html.
Kohlberg, Lawrence. Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. 1958.
Sahistory. “A History of Apartheid in South Africa.” South African History Online, 15 Mar. 2018, www.sahistory.org.za/article/history-apartheid-south-africa.
Tutu, Desmond. South African religious leader, anti-apartheid and human rights activist.
Uys, Jamie, Director, writer and director. The Gods Must Be Crazy.