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Zakes Mokae film 1980s

In the 1980s Mokae came with some of his best roles in films, particularly The Serpent and the Rainbow and A Dry White Season.

 The Island

The Island directed by Michael Ritchie in 1980.  Ritchie did at least one good film, The Candidate with Robert Redford, but this is not one of his successes.  The film stars Michael Caine as Blair Maynard taking his son on holiday. A Peter Benchley (he wrote the novel Jaws) story about pirates, very poor.

Zakes Mokae in Waterworld 

Caine´s plane crashes when landing on an island and policeman Westcott (Zakes Mokae) cycles up and insists on collecting the landing tax.

The island

The Isand

 Zakes Mokae Island     Zakes Mokae Island

Caine and his son move to their hotel, but are captured by pirates who live away from the rest of the world in their own colony.

 Michael Caine in The Island

the island angela punch mcgregor

Caine ends up forcibly partnered to a pirate woman (Angela Punch McGregor) who, not surprisingly, none of the pirates want.

the island angela punch mcgregor

She looks better without her make-up.  She ends up loving Caine and wants to be with him, but despite this she helps Caine and his son to escape.  Actually quite touching in an otherwise listless film.

Zakes Mokae Dust Devil

All images from the film.


Roar starring Tippi Hedron, known for Hitchcock's The Birds and Marni, and her daughter, a young Melanie Griffith with puppy fat.  The film centres round the family home in California with 132 lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and jaguars, plus an elephant and three aoudad sheep (from Tippi Hedron with Theodore Taylor, The Cats of Shambala, 1985, chapter 17).

Noel Marshall, husband of Tippi, directs in 1981- it is his first film as director and it shows.

Tippi Hedron   Melanie Griffith

He does however walk among the lions, including trying to stop a lion fight.  His relationship with the lions is amazing.

Roar lions 

This is a sentimental film, made to raise funds for Hedron´s Roar Foundation for animals at the Shambala Preserve. It comprises a weak and silly plot mixed with footage of lions and tigers playing with humans.  Tippi Hedron writes "we soon realized that no scene involving the animal cast could be directed to any extent.  After setting up situations, we would just roll three to six cameras and let happen what would happen" (The Cats of Shambala, chapter 14).

The acting (of the humans) is at times incredibly bad.  There is a Hitchcock Birds reference as Hedron enters a room and birds fly away.


The only memorable scenes are of the lions after some have been slaughtered by hunters, powerful imagery...

Zakes Mokae Roar - Noel Marshall

... and the opening, a motorbike being driven through the plains racing a giraffe which of course easily wins.  While most filming was in California, for some locale shots they filmed in Kenya "On the first day of photography, near the Matr River, which empties into Lake Victoria, a huge giraffe gave us one of those precious gifts.  Noel was on a motorbike going from right to left across the screen, when the bull giraffe, splitting off from the herd, decided to race the two wheeler.  Galloping joyously at thirty-five miles an hour, he kept up with the bike for almost a quarter mile, head eighteen or nineteen feet in the air, providing us with opening footage that would have been impossible to stage" (The Cats of Shambala chapter 26).

If you like lions it is worth buying, and the money goes to charity.  No animals were actually hurt during the film.

Roar Zakes Mokae


Zakes Mokae has a minor role as a committee member.  Sensibly he avoids the lions and his scenes are with zebras.

Cinematography is by Jan de Bont and editing by Ted Nicolaou.  The music includes N'Chi Ya Nani (Whose Land Is This?) and Isn't it Time by Robert Florczak.

"'Roar' is Marshall’s only film as a director, and his inexperience shows, above all, in the incoherence of its tone. The movie has an appropriately chaotic, and inescapable, quasi-documentary feel to it, and the action is captured with a discerning and unflinching camera eye by de Bont, a skilled and experienced cinematographer. But the story is a blend of documentary and fiction, an autofiction that meshes family life with a fabricated plot, and Marshall doesn’t quite seem aware of the forms he’s using" (Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 22 April 2020, click here).

"I confess that, as a feline aficionado, I got what I wanted from 'Roar:' lots and lots of big cats. There's not much to the film beyond that, though knowing that the film's hulking furry stars weren't trained does add an element of suspense to an otherwise slack thriller. Still, if you want to see cats chasing people in packs, falling over themselves to descend stairwells, and jump up trees to swipe at disposable human protagonists- you will probably enjoy 'Roar' " (Simon Abrams, Roger Ebert site, 17 Apr 2015, click here).

Zakes Mokae Roar

Mokae's name is misspelled in the credits.

All images from the film.

Zakes Mokae Cry Freedom

"all the black characters in the film reduced to something very minor, very thin and characters where you don't get an idea of at all" (John Matshikiza who plays Mapetla in the film from the documentary In Darkest Hollywood directed by Peter Davis and Daniel Riesenfeld)

Cry Freedom directed by Richard Attenborough in 1988 about South African black campaigner Steve Biko.  It is based in the book by Donald Woods, with Ronnie Taylor as Director of Photography.

"In 1969, Steve Biko and other black students frustrated with white leadership in multi-racial student organizations formed an exclusively black association. Out of the South African Students’ Organization (SASO) came what was termed Black Consciousness. This philosophy redefined “black” as an inclusive, positive identity and taught that black South Africans could make meaningful change in their society if “conscientized” or awakened to their self-worth and the need for activism… Articulate and charismatic, Steve Biko was one of the movement’s foremost instigators and prolific writers. When the South African government understood the threat Black Consciousness posed to apartheid… Biko was banished to his home district in the Eastern Cape... His death at the hands of security police in September 1977 revealed the brutality of South African security forces and the extent to which the state would go to maintain white supremacy" (Leslie Anne Hadfield, Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement, 27 Feb 2017, Oxford Research Encyclopedias, click here).

Kevin Cline as Donald Woods in Cry Freedom

Zakes Mokae Cry Freedom newspaper

Donald Woods, played by Kevin Kline, was an editor in South Africa and viewed Biko, Denzel Washington, as a black racist.

Denzel Washington as Biko in Cry Freedom

He is persuaded to meet Biko who is in internal exile.  Woods is impressed by the intelligence of Biko, and his desire for a South Africa where all people were treated equally.

Zakes Mokae Cry Freedom

Zakes Mokae Cry Freedom

Zakes Mokae Cry Freedom

Poverty in the townships, informers testifying from a large cardboard box, and the police enforcing apartheid.

Zakes Mokae Cry Freedom Steve Biko

Biko is captured and murdered, though this is covered up.

Zakes Mokae in Cry Freedom

Mokae as Father Kani at Biko's funeral.  He later guides Kline to the border with Lesotho where Kline can escape the South African authorities and publish his book exposing the murder of Biko.

Zakes Mokae in Cry Freedom

The riot scenes are magnificently and hauntingly filmed, and Denzel Washington plays Biko with deep intelligence.

A major flaw of the film is that despite its subject (Biko) Attenborough concentrates on the white perspective, just as he did in Gandhi.  It says it all when Denzel Washington in the title role was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category.

"...far from being the Steve Biko story, what was settled on was the Donald Woods story... It perpetuates the image of the African as victim, someone whose fate is in the bands of others" (Peter Davis, In Darkest Hollywood, 1996 chapter 5).

""CRY FREEDOM,' a black friend from South Africa tells me, 'may be a useful movie, at least for the moment. But it is not a truthful one.' He knows. He was one of the defendants in the trial depicted in the film at which Steve Biko was a defense witness. Convicted, my friend spent nearly eight years in Robben Island prison... what has been misappropriated is the truth about the black struggle. One has only to read Biko's famous essay, "Black Souls in White Skins?'... to grasp that the radical cutting edge of the hero's views has been dulled to make them palatable to Attenborough's intended white audience of millions. The film Biko waggishly chastises the country's liberals. But neither his analysis nor his remedy is ever threatening or even particularly challenging... Attenborough has made his black protagonist a stick figure whose only triumph is one white man's putative emancipation. He's also made the black masses undifferentiated and faceless. This in an antiapartheid film! No wonder the Botha government is so unfazed that it has allowed Cry Freedom to be shown without cuts" (Martin Peretz, 21 Dec 1987, The New Republic).

"Although 'Cry Freedom'' has sweeping, scenic good looks and two fine performances to recommend it, not to mention the weight of moral decency on its side, what comes through most strongly is the ponderousness of the Attenborough style... [the film] in fact makes relatively little of Steve Biko himself, allowing him to disappear before the film is even half over... it is most unfortunate that this film, with its potential for focusing worldwide attention on the plight of black South Africans, should concentrate its energies on a white man" (Janet Maslin in New York Times, 6 Nov 1987).

Another Zakes Mokae film also tackling apartheid in South Africa is A Dry White Season and here while white men try to resolve injustice, the character of Mokae is always present and is the person who carries out the decisive act concluding the film.

Zakes Mokae Cry Freedom

"The film ''Cry Freedom'' opened in more than 30 South African theaters today with censors' approval, but the police said it threatened public safety and seized copies of the film seven hours later… The Minister of Information, Stoffel van der Merwe, said the Government decided to override the board because the censors could not judge ''the situation on the streets.'' ''The security forces are portrayed in such a negative light that their public image would be seriously undermined,'' he said. ''Whites are typified as privileged and surrounded by wealth, as opposed to blacks living in great poverty and subjected to exploitation and repression.'' Mr. Van der Merwe said those portrayals were not accurate" (Cry Freedom' Seized by South African Police, New York Times, 30 Jul 1988).

Zakes Mokae Cry Freedom

All images from the film.

The Serpent and the Rainbow

The Serpent and the Rainbow directed by Wes Craven in 1988.  One of Zakes Mokae's great horror roles.

Dennis Allen (played by Bill Pulman) is sent to Haiti by a major pharmaceutical corporation to investigate reports of a dead person coming to life.  He meets Dr Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson) and of course they fall in love.

Zakes Mokae in The serpent and the Rainbow

But Haiti is under the power of the Duvalier dictatorship, and the head of the  paramilitary Tonton Macoute, led by Zakes Mokae- in The Comedians he  is also in the Tonton Macoute.

Allen quickly comes against the power of voodoo.

The Serpent and the Rainbow

The Serpent and the Rainbow

Zakes Mokae in The Serpent and the Rainbow

Allen investigates and find Christophe (Conrad Roberts) who was certified dead and buried, but walks and talks.

The Serpent and the Rainbow

Zakes Mokae has Allen taken to headquarters, and as they talk Allen can hear the screams of people being beaten.

Mokae warns Allen off, lighting his cigar with a blowtorch.

The Serpent and the Rainbow

Allen returns to America, but even when having a meal he discovers Mokae's voodoo can still reach him from the soup dish.

A powerful film by Wes Craven and a memorable and terrifying role by Zakes Mokae.

"The most striking performance, though, comes from South African-born Zakes Mokae as the police chief, grinning malevolently through gold-capped teeth as he contemplates some juicy atrocity" ( Geoff Brown, The Times, 20.Apr 1989).

 "Zakes Mokae is especially memorable as Alan's chief antagonist, the head of the dreaded Tontons Macoute security force, who displays menacingly bared teeth at all times, even when speaking - with the greatest sarcasm imaginable - of ''happy, happy, happy island people" (Janet Maslin, New York Times 5 Feb 1988).

The Serpent and the Rainbow

The Serpent and the Rainbow

All images from the film.

Gross Anatomy

Gross Anatomy directed by Thom Eberhardt in 1989.  Also called A Cut Above.  A medical student comedy with four students working together on the same corpse for a year. A predictable story- the first time they have to cut open a body, the long hours of study, the student being expelled, falling in love- but it is a pleasant comedy. 

The Good Life

Joe Slovak (Matthew Modine- he was in Full Metal Jacket) comes from a poor family and want to be a doctor to earn lots of money.  His father is a fisherman and the boat, The Good Life, sums up Joe's attitude to life. 

Matthew-Modine   Daphne Zuniga

Laurie (Daphne Zuniga) is a fellow student and of course they end  up together.

 Medical centre

Mokae is Dr. Banumbra of the anatomy lab, initially as awesome as the bodies on the tables.

Zakes Mokae in Gross Anatomy 

"Despite its less than promising title and its occasional stock touches, ''Gross Anatomy'' is a mostly funny and engaging look at Joe's first med-school year. Its focus is the anatomy lab, where Zakes Mokae, in a smallish role as one of Joe's teachers, presides with fiendish glee" (Janet Maslin, New York Times, 20 Oct 1989).

   Gross Anatomy

Gross Anatomy

All images from the film.

A Dry White Season title

"There's nothing that is not true in this picture and I know from experience.  I know what it is to be in a cell and to be beaten" (Zakes Mokae from the documentary In Darkest Hollywood directed by Peter Davis and Daniel Riesenfeld, 1993)

A Dry White Season directed by Euzhan Palcy in 1989 of an Andre Brink novel starring Donald Sutherland, Marlon Brando and Zakes Mokae.  The film tackles the apartheid regime in South Africa, filmed during the apartheid days but filmed in Zimbabwe.  Andre Brink says of the novel "that created a lot of security police interest in me" (from In Darkest Hollywood).

Palcy says she wanted to make a political film but avoiding being political and polemical (from DVD extras).  The film is the first picture directed by a black woman to be released by a major Hollywood studio (A Dry White Season: Justice Against the Law, Jyoti Mistry, 11 Dec 2018 from The Criterion Collection website, click here).

A Dry White Season Winston Ntshona and Donald Sutherland

Fugard veterans Winston Ntshona and John Kani also appear. Ntshona (above) is the gardener Gordon Ngubene whose son is beaten by police.  His white boss Ben du Toit (Sutherland) is a South African liberal but tells him to let it go, "There is really nothing more we can do".

A Dry White Season demonstration 

Gordon's son takes part in a march by black South African children who protest against Afrikaans, the language of the white Afrikaners, being introduced in black schools.

A Dry White Season army

The peaceful demonstration is met by armed soldiers and police who fire on the children, with Gordon's son one of the killed. 

A Dry White Season newspaper

A Dry White Season bodies

Gordon and his wife Emily (Thoko Ntshinga) search the mortuary for their son's body.  Emily's friend Stanley Makhaya (Zakes Mokae) helps.

A Dry White Season interrogation

Gordon's search for his son's body leads to his arrest and torture under supervision of the menacing Captain Stolz (Jürgen Prochnow).

A Dry White Season

Zakes Mokae in A Dry White Season

Mokae plays a taxi driver and is looking to document and publicise the crime against Gordon and his son.  Sutherland tells Mokae there is still hope and Mokae replies "Hope is a white word.  It is not hope we need".

 Mokae is on top form in the film.  Euzhan Palcy says "[in in scene he] is supposed to be crying… he couldn’t cry, Zakes Mokae said he couldn’t cry. So we tried everything and time was running. So I said OK we stop everything and stay put, and I walk outside with him, and I say tell me, what is going on? He said, I don’t know, I can’t cry. I say, OK, you are South African, I know that they killed your brother, they tortured hum, they hanged him, and they said that he committed suicide. You remember when you got the news how you felt about this, and he said “yes”, and I said I want you to go back and when you get to your scene you see your brother and you remember that emotion. And that’s exactly what he did and he was crying like crazy." (Ava DuVernay in discussion with Euzhan Palcy, The Root, 22 Oct 2020 here).

Donald Sutherland in A Dry White Season

Sutherland the white liberal realises the realities of apartheid "I went along with them, I believed their lies".

He hires civil right lawyer Ian McKenzie (Marlon Brando) and asks for justice under the law.  Brando replies "You see, justice and the law... I suppose they could be described as distant cousins, and here in South Africa they are simply not on speaking terms".

Marlon Brando in A Dry White Season

Brando gives a memorable performance.  He so liked the film script he agreed to appear without payment- Sutherland says in an interview "They phoned me up and said Marlon is doing it for nothing and they are going to offer you enough to eat" (interviewed on NBC Today in 1989 from DVD extras).  Both Brando and Sutherland as well as A Dry White Season novelist Andre Brink mention Palcy's film Sugar Cane Alley (Rue Case Negres) as reasons for wanting to work with Palcy.

Marlon Brando in A Dry White Season

A Dry White Season

The film shows two families torn apart, black Gordon's family where his son is killed, he is tortured and killed, and his wife Emily is killed, and white Du Toit's family torn between wanting to change the system (Du Toit and his son) and his wife and daughter who fear a black revolution and are prepared to betray him if necessary.

A Dry White Season Zakes Mokae

Stanley (Mokae) finally confronts Captain Stolz.  "Zakes Mokae acts with fire and dignity as Stanley, the gardener's friend who leads Du Toit to the truth" (Geoff Brown, The Times, 18 Jan 1990).

A Dry White Season Zakes Mokae credit

All images from the ilm.

Zakes Mokae Dad

Dad directed by Gary David Goldberg with Jack Lemmon, and Kevin Spacey and a young Ethan Hawke (his third feature length film) in relatively small roles. 1989.  Given the available talent the film wastes their abilities.  Jan Kiesser is Director of Photography, and the film is based on a book by William Wharton who previously wrote the novel Birdy.

A sentimental film with the father approaching death and the son realises how he has neglected his father and his own son, and builds up the family again.

Zakes Mokae Dad Ted Danson

The characters are predictable, the businessman (Ted Danson, left) who neglects his family...

Zakes Mokae Dad Kevin Spacey

...and his less successful brother, Kevin Spacey, who has little script development to work with.

Ethan Hawke - Zakes Moka e- Dad

A young Ethan Hawke is also underused.

Jack Lemmon Zakes Mokae Dad

Jack Lemmon is the elderly dad who has health issues and enter hospital under the treatment of unsympathetic doctors.  One scene shows the grandfather bound to his wheelchair like a prisoner, which leads to the dad/son carrying him out the hospital.

Zakes Mokae - Dad

"What are we to make, for example, of the scene where Danson grows angry with the hospital treatment Dad is receiving and literally picks up his father and carries him out of the hospital and takes him home? The filmmakers no doubt thought this would be an emotionally shattering scene, but they got carried away by their own zeal. No one who has seen an elderly parent through major surgery could believe the scene for a moment; such an experience would cause the patient excruciating pain and might kill him" (Roger Ebert, 27 Oct 1989, click here).

"...the soft-headed screenplay somehow permits the members of the cast to give good performances and, in Mr. Lemmon's case, a performance that is often something of a wonder... People smile through tears to the point where a fire hose would seem to be the only way to bring them back to reality. It has two too many potentially fatal illnesses and maybe a half-dozen too many scenes in which one family member clutches another family member and says, ''I love you.'.. The rest of ''Dad'' is composed of a series a harrowing situations about terminal illnesses and family relationships that sound more and more phony as the film becomes more serious" (Vincent Canby, New York Times, 27 Oct 1989).

Mokae is the sympathetic Dr Chad who realises how impersonal hospitals can be.  Mokae later worked with Spacey on Outbreak.   Mokae is probably the only good thing in the film (but I might be biased).

Zakes Mokae - Dad

Zakes Mokae - Dad

Zakes Mokae - Dad

Zakes Mokae Dad

Zakes Mokae Dad

All images from the film.


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