A Walk in the Night

A Walk in the Night recounts a single terrible night when the fragile world of Mikey Adonis, a young Coloured steel worker, disintegrates. As the pressures on Mikey build, we see a decent man driven to an act of brutality by a racist society which humiliates him at every turn. The parallels with Richard Wright\'s seminal portrait of black rage in Native Son are unavoidable. Mikey has just been fired from his job because he objected when his foreman called him "kaffir," a racial epithet. Coming out of the factory, he runs into his girlfriend\'s brother Joey, an "at risk" youth dabbling in male prostitution and drug running in response to South Africa\'s 40% black unemployment rate. Mikey, a respected father figure for the boy, tries to save him from the gangster life-style but realizes that his own recent work experience doesn\'t offer a very promising alternative. Next his girlfriend, Zelda, tells him she is pregnant, the day he has lost the job he would need to support a family. Finally, on his way home, a racist cop harasses him for no other reason than to force Mikey to call him "baas," stripping away whatever dignity Mikey might have left.

Mikey begins a drinking binge with his Uncle Doughty, a harmless neighborhood drunk and broken down Irish actor who was close to his mother and him as a child. As the evening wears on, Mikey becomes more offended by Uncle Doughty\'s presumptions of intimacy, telling him he doesn\'t have a white uncle. Like many well-meaning white people Uncle Doughty fails to recognize the radical gap between what they experience and the disrespect a black man encounters every day. When Uncle Doughty persists in calling him, "Mikey, my boy," saying that, "It\'s just a manner of speech," Mikey explodes and in a rage kills him. The film has shown how words can build up incrementally with an almost physical force until the most casual social encounter can seem to encapsulate an entire oppressive social system with devastating consequences.

Joey visits Mikey soon after Uncle Doughty\'s murder and is mistakenly accused of the crime; he flees into the night pursued by the police. Mikey chases after him, appalled at what he has done to Uncle Doughty and Joey. But he is too late to prevent the same rogue cop who harassed him earlier from shooting Joey at point blank range. The policeman then turns his gun on Mikey but, in a radical departure from the original novella, he is shot by his white partner before he can shoot Mikey. However improbable this may seem, it suggests that, although racism is still rampant in post-apartheid South Africa, it is now possible for some to see things in terms of basic human rights instead of ethnic loyalty. An angry crowd has gathered around Joey\'s shooting and, in the film\'s last scene, they march into the dawn out of the long night of apartheid with somber determination.

Mikey is no Hamlet; rather than a dead tragic hero, he is a man living with his deeply flawed actions. In the last scenes, there is little sense of vindication yet a catharsis of sorts has occurred, at least for the viewer, a resolution to stop this tragedy from repeating itself. By updating an apartheid era story into the post-apartheid period, Mickey Dube has squarely confronted the central issue facing South Africa and its cinema: how both to reveal the pentimento of the past persistent in the present and at the same time show that new, non-racialist scenarios are available for the future.

may be useful to clarify the meaning of "Coloured" in South Africa\'s very elaborate former racial nomenclature. Viewers may notice that at the beginning of the film Mike is outraged that the white worker calls him a "kaffir," the South African equivalent of "nigger," not so much because he used a racial slur but an inaccurate one. In South Africa "kaffir" was generally applied to black South African descendants of the bantu-speaking people of the region. Coloured was a category referring to people of mixed race, specifically the products of mixing between the early Dutch settlers and the indigenous Khoikhoi or San people (and later with enslaved peoples from the East). Derogatorily known as Hottentots or