When I wrote in one of my recent pieces that when it comes to intellectual heavy lifting, or anything that requires thinking, never mind critical thinking, most of the so called South African ‘celebrities’ should be left outside, I was accused of being harsh when in fact my statement was informed by the observations I had made over the past few years about our entertainers. I still stand by my statement, for these so called ‘celebrities’ seem to always go out of their way to prove me right. Put in plain English, most of our ‘celebrities’ are dumb. Yes, no one likes being called dumb or stupid, but I constantly argue that when one’s attitude and behaviour mimics that of a dumb or stupid person, then that person is dumb or stupid. We are doing ourselves a disservice by seeking to sugar-coat the truth, when in fact most of these poor souls have proven on many occasions that they are glorified idiots!
In 2016, when the historic Fees Must Fall movement was in full swing, radically disrupting and upsetting the status quo, for a brief moment another movement called Open Up The Industry threatened to disrupt the industry, particularly the entertainment industry. While not as powerful and influential as the Fees Must Fall movement, Open Up The Industry brought to the fore a burning issue that was rarely discussed in mainstream media – the lack of transformation in South Africa’s entertainment industry. Unlike most industries in South Africa, transformation in this particular case was not restricted to race, but included lack of gender equality, the preference of new actors over older, experienced actors and a new low in the South African entertainment scene – the hiring of mediocre talent, if not zero talent, based on their social media influence. For those who had spent years honing their talent, be it on radio, television, film, theatre and so on, this was a major insult to their hard work and natural talent; hence Open Up The Industry movement.
As an avid fan of the arts and a fanatic of riveting entertainment, I had also begun to notice in the past ten years or less, especially during the aggressive rise and influence of social media, that the entertainment industry was doing to us what the serial abuser and rapist R. Kelly was doing to little girls – pissing on us as consumers. People whose lack of talent made me seem like a high achiever while I was languishing on a couch at home, were shoved in our faces and paraded everywhere. Talented and experienced thespians, radio jockeys, television presenters, producers and managers were replaced with mediocrity. New talent could not be hired unless they produced dizzying numbers of followers on Instagram and Twitter. In the age of social media anything is possible.
Open Up The Industry movement represented a chance for all South Africans to shine much needed light into a secretive and highly-guarded industry that is notorious for forcing women to drop their pants or lift up their skirts if they are to secure a job. Failure to comply resulted in women being shunned and blacklisted within the industry. The unbelievably talented and breath-taking thespian, Brenda Ngxoli, has returned home to the Eastern Cape because abusive, misogynistic thugs in Gauteng who run and rule the entertainment industry with an iron fist deemed her persona non grata. This was an opportune time for the industry to transform and evolve, but our lightheaded celebrities decided to hijack this important conversation.
The Open Up The Industry movement was and remains a critical social movement as it forces transformation, evolution and growth in industries that are stagnant and therefore harmful to human progress. The introduction of fresh talent means a space for innovation is created, thus expanding what was initially a small pie, and not the opposite as some incorrectly believe, into a much larger pie. This is what most people fail to understand. New people bring new ideas, and therefore inspire growth and evolution. But as usual, change scares people.
Enter our beloved South African celebrities and their pea-sized brains. When the subject of opening doors for other people in the industry is mentioned, they take offence as if welcoming other people within the industry is tantamount to taking food away from their plates. The ‘I worked hard to be where I am today, so you have to also work hard’ mantra has become a favourite go-to defence statement for them. However, this mentality is wrong as it implies the person asking to be given an opportunity, a chance to prove themselves, is inherently lazy. In fact, this line of thinking and argument is insulting as it is not different from what whites say when blacks demand that the South African economy be transformed to include everyone. For this reason, I suggest that the Open Up The Industry movement be quickly and urgently rescued from these people whose heads seem to go into a tailspin whenever asked to add one and one together.
To further emphasise my point that Open Up The Industry is important as a social movement, and therefore should be protected from idiots, one needs to take a look at an industry whose racism and misogyny is so rampant they could blind the sun: the engineering industry. Being black in South Africa is already a crime, but being black in engineering is a sin. Another sad yet well-known fact is that women are most likely to survive in the Serengeti than in the streets of my beloved country. Now imagine how it must feel to be a black woman in the engineering sector.
To effect real transformation in the engineering sector and for the industry to evolve, it is imperative that movements such Open Up The Industry are given the necessary oxygen, and I cannot stress this enough; by people who are qualified. To allow such a powerful movement to die because some not-so-bright celebrities are worried about their plate is lazy. Academia is another sector where the movement needs to urgently find a voice. Notice how the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng has had to contend against racist insults since her appointment. Notwithstanding the inarguable fact that she is a highly intelligent professional with glowing academic credentials, and therefore appointed on merit are points that her detractors ignore. All they see is a black woman who doesn’t know her place.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is absolutely important that each citizen of our country is granted an opportunity in any of the industries that make up the giant that is South Africa on merit, and not because you have a large following on social media or your uncle is a bigshot. With a movement such as Open Up The Industry, this is another opportunity to ensure that each industry is transformed and therefore evolves to build an inclusive, growing economy and ultimately a better, happy society. As for our dim-witted celebrities, please keep them away from this important discussion until they get a brain upgrade. Pula!
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