Review: Riding with Sugar Makes an Appearance at the Three Rivers Film Festival; A Foreign Film for the Black Community about Identity and Self-Perseverance

by Merecedes J. Williams, Movie Scene Queen™

Sunu Gonera, a film director from Zimbabwe, crosses country lines with the 2020 drama “Riding with Sugar.” The movie is about a young refugee, Joshua (Charles Mnene), whose escape from the life of a child soldier lands him on the streets of South Africa’s Cape Town. A talented bike-rider, he dreams of winning a cycling championship as a way out of poverty. He finds more than shelter after a terrible accident derails his BMX racing career. Under the wings of a trusted advisor, Joshua is forced to balance education, love, health, and trauma to meet his goals.

According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, more than 32 million Africans are either internally displaced, refugees, or asylum seekers. Imagine being young with no family, no formal education, and nowhere to go. Gonera paints this picture so vividly through his cinematic release.

He shows us the few impoverished options for young Joshua and the other millions of African who seek the same safety and relief. 

The turbulent struggles and murky waters the main character navigates through is a creative glimpse into Gonera’s film making process. The final product is colorful yet dark, making every life turn that much more relatable for the audience.

The beauty of “Riding with Sugar” lies within its adaptability and how even in a different country, on a different continent, the troubles of young Joshua are the same troubles Black youth face here in America. The journey to find oneself and not succumb to gangs, drugs, and other illicit behavior is boundless, impacting both Africans and African Americans.

The cast, which includes Mnene, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Simona Brown, and Hlayani Junior Mabasa, was phenomenal. The only woman to grace the main slate is Simona Brown, who plays Joshua’s beau, Olivia.

Brown is effortlessly radiant. But that’s to be expected. She brings a calm yet complex demeanor to all of her roles. Most recently, she starred in the Netflix thriller, “Behind Her Eyes.” The British actress is racy, delicate, gentle—pretty much the ideal love interest for every flick. 

She breaks up the male-dominated film with her quirks of legitimate care and concern. Brown also debunks all the stereotypes that foreigners hold about African women. She’s smart, capable, healthy, and wealthy. 

“Riding with Sugar” takes you on a journey. It is more than a coming-of-age story. There’s a piece of Joshua in all of us; an inner child who battles with identity, self-sufficiency, and belonging. 

Both Black and African films, such as “Riding with Sugar”, are vital to the fabric of telling stories of the untold and bringing awareness to the vulnerable population of refugees.

“Riding with Sugar,” the winner of six South African Film and  Television Awards including Best Picture, is available for in-person and virtual screenings at the 2021 Three Rivers Film Festival. 

Schedule:

Friday, November 12, 7:15 PM at the Waterworks Cinemas  

Saturday, November 13, 4:45 PM at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater 

The film is available for virtual viewing November 11-17 in PA, WV, and OH only.

Please check theaters COVID-19 safety policies.

Need tickets? Film Pittsburgh is teaming up with Motor Mouth Multimedia to increase diversity and access to both the Three Rivers Film Festival and the Pittsburgh Shorts and Script Competition, which feature nearly 40 Black films shown in-person and online. Enter the discount code LOCMM50 for 50% off the All Festival passes, and LOCMM2OFF for $2 off all individual tickets.  Visit filmpgh.secure.force.com/ticket to purchase tickets.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, starring Idris Elba as former South African President Nelson Mandela, is a lesson to be learned by all ages. As the world still mourns after Nelson Mandela’s December 5th death, there’s a slight comfort and learning opportunity with this movie. With seven different movies about Nelson Mandela’s life, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is only movie authorized by Nelson Mandela and his family.

Idris Elba and Naomie Harris as Nelson and Winnie Mandela is a match made in heaven. Elba, who was recently nominated for Best Actor by the Golden Globes for his role in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, is strong and poised, and with the spot of makeup magic, gave the audience an intense snapshot of Nelson Mandela from a young lad to a senior citizen. Whereas, Harris is feisty and mild tempered as the former First Lady of South Africa. Both actors portray the couple as they had studied their behavior and work for a long period of time.

As expected, the movie was long. Although worth it, I wonder why the movie focused a great deal of time on his first marriage and his promiscuous ways. I know all leaders are not perfect and hold their own flaws. But the focus on that particular part of his life was not detrimental to story line. I wish the movie would have shed light more on the work he did once he was elected president in 1994.

On December 12th, Movie Scene Queen hosted a special screening of the movie and invited Pittsburgh Public Schools students and District leaders. Student members of the African American Center for Advanced Studies (AACAS) Executive Committee, a group of PPS Black gifted students, and young African American men a part of the WE PROMISE program, a District initiative to mentor male students and help them obtain the Pittsburgh Promise, were in attendance.

“The only thing I knew about Nelson Mandela was that he fought to end apartheid and spent 27 years in prison. Everything else that happened in the movie, I never knew” says AACAS executive committee member and Brashear High School junior, Makeda Drew, 16.

Drew and roughly 40 other students spent 139 minutes learning the multi-layered story of Nelson Mandela. “I think it’s important for us to be exposed to a great leader. The movie was inspirational to see what changes one man could accomplish because of what he believed in,” says Drew.

The movie has already seen cinematic success in South Africa. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie debuted at #1 during its opening weekend (November 28th release date) and has currently grossed an estimated $1.2 million.

4 STARS: In addition to the many local initiatives in Pittsburgh to honor Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy, let’s maximize on this holiday break and support this movie. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a must see for everyone.

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