Johannesburg – In this era of information overload and instant gratification, Netflix and online content shape the minds of the youth. Most of the content available doesn’t have any benefit. But one screenwriter is trying to change all of that through storytelling and by bringing South African history to the cinemas.
Weaam Williams, screenwriter and director, is using her skill and love for writing to bring stories of marginalised communities to the youth. She got her first start in the industry as a performance poet and screenwriter for SABC TV drama in 2005. To date, she has been behind several documentaries, including the award-winning Hip-Hop Revolution, a series on the extinction of the Khoisan. Her most famous piece of work, District Six – Rising from the dust. The documentary has won multiple awards and is based on her life.
“My documentaries I made previously were very external to myself and my family. With District Six it was because I physically moved into a house that was re-situated to my grandfather. I think I could have made a film just about the community. There definitely was that option but I don’t think it would have been that powerful.”
Storytelling through documentaries and movies
Williams realised that while there were a lot of stories to tell, there were also a lot of factions and politics tied to District Six. She chose to focus the documentary on her family believing it would be more powerful.
“I made a decision that the only way I’m going to tell the story very honestly is to tell my own story. In that way, deviate from all of the other external politics. Although the film is quite political, I didn’t get involved in any of the petty public politics but rather told a very personal story with the broad brush strokes of a political narrative.”
Williams quickly dismissed notions that most people believe documentaries and movies like these don’t appeal to cinema-going folk. Her previous film which debuted in Cape Town was always fully booked, she said, and people are interested in alternative movies and voices.
Writing as a career
Williams believes her writing has helped her properly convey her stories and thoughts to the community and movie goers. She described an incident during her time at the University of Cape Town (UCT) that steered her to writing .
“A friend of mine, who is now an advocate, she was a really good academic, we submitted our poetry for a UCT publication. And my poetry got chosen and hers didn’t. She said to me that for her that was a defining moment for her. Because then she knew that she was meant to move on her path, which was to become a lawyer and then an advocate. And I was meant to be a writer.”
She isn’t just a writer and director. Williams explained that she studied photography and editing which all prepared her for the journey that she is currently on. The way women were portrayed in the media discouraged her from going into drama and acting while at UCT. As she has learnt more about the industry she is far more confident to speak out about these things.
Williams latest short film is a fiction piece which acts as “a statement against gender-based violence and sexual assault”. It centres around a Muslim woman who suffers from bipolar disorder. Most of her new work focuses on Muslim women. She is currently raising funds for her new screenplay, and hopes to get it into production as soon as possible. Ashraf Garda in conversation with Weaam Williams and her storytelling.