Review essay on Oliver Hermanus' Shirley Adams

SOURCE: Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
PUBLICATION YEAR: 2011
TITLE AUTHOR(S): N.Sanger
KEYWORDS: BODY IMAGE, CAPE TOWN, DISABILITY, GANGS, GENDER, RACIAL SEGREGATION, VIOLENCE
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 7066
HANDLE: 20.500.11910/3562

If you would like to obtain a copy of this Research Output, please contact Hanlie Baudin at researchoutputs@hsrc.ac.za.

Abstract

Oliver Hermanus' Shirley Adams (2009) is a South African film focused on the intimate relationship between a mother and her disabled son - a survivor of a shooting - caught in the cross-fire of gang violence in the community where he lives. Filmed in Mitchell's Plain, part of what is termed the 'Cape Flats' and located on the urban peripheries of Cape Town, the story works as an intense portrayal of the daily reality of Shirley Adams, specifically how she manages her life, and the life of her son. My commentary on the film is premised on feminist intersectional theory which sees power as working in multiple and complex ways. This perspective will prioritise the links and mediations between various interconnected subjectivities - gender, 'class', 'race', sexuality, and non-human animal ethics1 within a specific space and at a particular moment in the current South African context. Recognising that there are multiple ways in which to read film narratives, my intention is to explore Shirley Adams through engaging the many intersecting dynamics revealed through the narrative, and what these potentially invoke. The commentary will therefore be framed by an approach that considers the ways in which constructions of gender, class, and race - often mediated by ideas of sexuality - enable or disable certain ways of being in the world. In view of this, I reflect on how the female-mother body (signified through the main character) is commodified and valued through labour, and how this labour is gendered and classed; how a certain kind of heteromasculinity is revealed through Donovan's (partially paralysed) body, and finally, how 'class', gender, 'race' and human-animal relationships intersect through discourses of food in the film.