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Review: Anant Singh's In Black and White: A Memoir


Born in Durban, Anant Singh is South Africa's pre-eminent film producer having produced more than 100 films from the mid-1980s to now. Best known for the films Cry, the Beloved Country, Sarafina!, Yesterday and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, his memoir 'In Black and White' captures where it all began.

His father introduced him to the moving image, using a makeshift screen to project the likes of Charlie Chaplin for him and his younger brother. While Anant enjoyed the escapism that movies offered, it wasn't long before the entrepreneur and dedicated businessman was creating a groove that would come to be his career. Leveraging their home cinema in exchange for a few coins from kids in the neighbourhood, the would-be producer was well on his way.

Honing his passion for the medium and refining his business acumen, Singh started by rewinding 16mm reels in the 1970s, coming to own the film rental store before the age of 20. While his humble beginnings were the spark that ignited an illustrious film career, it's important to realise the context. While he had a happy upbringing, restrictive legislation, segregation, inherent racism and strict censorship meant that Singh was constantly on the back foot.

Referring to himself as Black, a classification he explains in the book, his passion for film and drive for business was only matched by his political awareness. Through his films he has been able to craft stories that speak to deeper truths. The medium has been used for propaganda, which just goes to show how powerful it can be in opening minds rather than simply serving as a form of amusement.

A life's ambition turned mission, Anant Singh has humbly served as an ambassador for equality, fearlessly campaigning against the deep prejudices and injustices of divisive systematised forms of government such as Apartheid.

Moving from renting films to distribution, he became a force in the home video market, turning his business venture into Videovision Enterprises before producing award-winning and important films. Singh gambled with some of the productions he's produced, especially in the early days, going for pure popcorn entertainment and box office profits.

While his mind may have been invested in the financial viability of certain projects, his heart and soul has guided him in many meaningful film projects that would be considered bad business by Hollywood contemporaries. These message movies have come to characterise Anant Singh's career, speaking to his desire to see positive change in the world through the power of art. Together with collaborator, Darryl Roodt, the filmmaker was responsible for Place of Weeping and The Stick., which set the platform for other great South African films.

In Black and White

'In Black and White: A Memoir' speaks to the nobility of his quest to get these international film projects to see the light of day. A friend of world icon and late president Nelson Mandela, he was entrusted with the adaptation of Mandela's inspirational 'Long Walk to Freedom' by the man himself. Getting Mandela's endorsement is praise enough. Being given the reins to adapt his penultimate autobiography, what more can you say? Carrying out his wishes took many years, more than originally anticipated but what an honour.

'In Black and White: a Memoir' could easily be adapted into a biographical picture on its own merit. Anant Singh's life story is one of pure determination, absolute dedication and eagle-eyed opportunism. Having befriended some of the biggest icons of all-time from the world of entertainment through to the political arena, you could say that networking has always been a strong point.

Sharing personal stories about professional relationships as well as friendships, the man was lucky enough to brush shoulders with the likes of Quincy Jones, Sidney Poitier, Whoopi Goldberg, Denzel Washington, Amitabh Bachchan and Idris Elba to name a few. Humbling himself, Singh's never been afraid to learn, continually seeking counsel with mentors including: Ahmed Kathrada, Fatima and Ismail Meer and of course Nelson Mandela.

Moving from intimate stories about growing up in his neighbourhood to running his video rental store, the biographical elements quickly spiral upwards as bigger business ventures come to fruition. His life story is one that was forged in an age where business was mostly done in person, forcing the producer to make the exciting albeit taxing slog of international travel a regular occurrence.

Getting his timing right in catching planes just before they took off and catching connecting flights to ensure that he was able to attend various premieres, 'In Black and White' serves as a remarkable throwback to the days before the digital revolution that was the Internet. Moving and shaking in the Hollywood of yesteryear to being a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the chair of Cape Town Film Studios, he's been there, done that and bought the t-shirt company.

While Anant Singh's open and honest about the projects that were a success, he's equally forthcoming about lessons learned. Capturing the excitement of the dealmaking, the sizzle of seizing hot opportunities, the jetsetting, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and politicians... Singh's book is an astounding page-turner, a meaningful tribute, a politically conscious chronicle and an entertaining read.

Being a South African film critic, this behind-the-scenes on the local film industry, Hollywood machinations and lifestyles of the rich and famous was consistently enjoyable. From imagining the biopic playing out on screen to harvesting some of the many life experiences of a prolific filmmaker, Singh's rich insights, impressive networking skills and living-the-dream optimism are truly inspirational.

South Africa is a country where entrepreneurial endeavour should be treasured and 'In Black and White' is a veritable showcase of what can be achieved against the odds. As Singh acknowledges, he only remembers bits and pieces of his colourful and well-travelled journey, making this a true memoir. Being other-centric, 'In Black and White' does become a tribute to the many great friends and mentors he has met along the way.

Moving in a chronological order, giving readers an overview of his career, his highlights, collaborators and behind-the-scenes productivity, 'In Black and White' encapsulates the man's biggest adventures at home and abroad. Checking off many items on his bucket list, his influential work has become part of the rich tapestry of South Africa from pop culture to the very fabric of our identity as a nation.

'In Black and White' is a vivid retelling of Singh's life story. While the multi-pronged title speaks to the medium that first captured his imagination as a child, the political context of his beloved country and the actual words on the page, he also uses the platform to address some of his more controversial collaborations in retrospect. Names like Harvey Weinstein, Leon Schuster and even Michael Jackson have attributed stigmas over the years and Singh addresses these partnerships and engagements, leaving no grey area and without becoming inflammatory.

Several colourful photographic inserts punctuate the memoir, serving as evidence of his extraordinary life and taken next to wonderful friends he made over the time. Sadly many of these one-in-a-million individuals are no longer with us but are remembered with great fondness through Singh's eyes.

'Black and White: A Memoir' is a must read for those interested in the art of filmmaking, the jetsetting lifestyle of the age, behind-the-scenes stories on classic South African films or even those just wanting to appreciate the sacrifices and determination of a filmmaker who produced more than 100 films of for decades. If you've heard of Anant Singh, this memoir will give you a VIP pass to his life story and sheds light on his achievements - many of which haven't always been full appreciated.