In 1992, I was at university in South Africa at a time when race was a hot topic. A referendum on ending apartheid was held on 17 March 1992. It was limited to white voters who were asked whether or not they supported the negotiated reforms begun by State President F.W. de Klerk two years earlier, in which he proposed to end the apartheid system that had been implemented since 1948.
As I was not South African, but had grown up in neighbouring Zimbabwe where just over 10 years earlier we had achieved independence from the UK and the vote was available to all Zimbabweans over 18 years old, the discussion about race and the right to vote had been part of my life since I could speak. The Bodyguard came out in 1992 and I know realise, over 20 years later, that it had a huge impact on my attitude to the social status quo. This was a movie with a black female lead, who was one of the biggest performers in the world, having a romance with Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. The romance and the story was presented without the politics of race and mixed race relationships. It was just a romantic thriller, a genre we all knew well, telling a plot we had seen many times before. It was also well made film with great performances, good chemistry between Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, and a soundtrack that mad more money than a small country's GDP. It is a movie that uses the tropes of a romance/thriller movie to tell a story about a black women at the top of her game. As an audience member I felt that there was no question about Whitney Houston leading this film. I was colour blind.
In that same year, there were two more obvious movies about race that came out. The Power of One, a film based on the 1989 South African novel by Bryce Courtney set in 1930s and 1940s South Africa, about an English boy growing up under aparthied; and the musical, Sarafina! As Melissa Shales on About Africa Travel says, Sarafina! was "first staged as a musical at Johannesburg's Market Theatre, Sarafina! was the brainchild of Mbongeni Ngema, who wrote the book, music, lyrics and even directed the show. An unlikely topic for a musical, it told the story of Soweto uprisings of June 1976. The play transferred to Broadway on 28 January, 1988." Race was front and centre in both these movies and was usually part of the rhetoric in South African media and culture. They were both about young people being part of a greater historical story. Politics and social injustice sat side by side with the human story. It was fascinating to see the sense of hope and excitement bubble up in the country on the verge of big social change. But when I think about these movies and how they impacted me. The Power of One and Sarafina! are stories of the times, making strong statements about the changes in a country. Looking back to look forward. They blazed brightly as part of a social revolution. But The Bodyguard stays with me longer. It is a movie I will put on at anytime, and will quite happily misquote to friends and families at dinner parties. It is because of this that I say that it ultimately had more to say to me about race and representation of black women than a film that wears these elements on its sleeve.