28 October 2013
By Leonie Wolters
The leading lady of Of Good Report, Petronella Tshuma, shares the highs and lows of starring in a controversial film. ‘...I think I’m doing something right.’
How did you experience the controversy surrounding the film?
It was like being hit. After lots of hard work it felt very humiliating to have the film banned, especially because it happened publicly at a film festival. I wasn't even aware of the law that banned the portrayal of an underage person having sex in a film. At the time, I doubted the ban would be lifted, but that's now a long time ago. In a way is is a good thing that it happened, because it raised awareness about the film and the issues it portrays. Not that I got involved in the film because of those issues. I just love acting. I thought playing a promiscuous teenage girl, as a 23 year-old, would be fun and challenging.
How do you see Nolitha, you character in the film?
A lot of people say Parker (the teacher) is the beast. As an older man, he should've known better. The thing is, when I started to learn the part of Nolitha, I wanted to make her a victim. The reason she ends up doing what she does is because she has had a difficult childhood. But then you have to remember, Nolitha is the one that actually approached Parker. She is sexually confident in who she is, she has authority over herself and she's in control first part of the relationship. It is only when everything goes wrong that Parker turns and he becomes a monster.
So we can make her a victim, but we can also try to understand where she comes from. The film was shot in a poor, small town, where there isn't much happening, close to nothing happening. Conditions are bad - roofs are about to fall down, there are no inside toilets, no work. I'm from Johannesburg, we don't know that kind of lifestyle. People in those towns have nothing to look forward to, except sex, drinking, fighting, that kind of thing. No one is progressing. There you find young women whose parents have no authority over them. They might go and have fun. For a sense of security, they might go for older men. It happens everywhere, even here in UK. Of course, the teacher needs to act his age. If he finds a 16 year-old attractive, he needs to keep it to himself.
What is the most meaningful response you have received to the film?
I've been professional actress for only three years, so I'm eager for acknowledgement and criticism. I remember this one time when I was on set, shooting a drama series, when I received a phone call from this unknown number. I was wondering who it was, and when I listened to the voicemail it turned out to have been Jamie Bartlett, a very well known South African actor. He'd left an amazing message, saying my performance had blown him away. He called it a 'leading lady performance'. I couldn't believe that he went to look for me at the set, just to tell me that. And you know, I doubt myself, we all do. The film industry is not an easy industry to be in, and every day is a battle to carry on. Jamie made me think I'm doing something right.
Of Good Report, prevented from opening the Durban International Film Festival 2013 (July), was our Opening Night film in Glasgow on Friday 25th October 2013.