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21 Up South Africa: Mandela's Children (DVD Review)

20 Jul, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel

21 Up SA

Street 7/22/08
First Run
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.

Surviving the teenage years can be a challenge; doing so in post-apartheid South Africa is cause for a documentary.

Following the Jesuit maxim “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” filmmaker Angus Gibson since 1992 has chronicled a group of 14 children (black, white, mixed race, rich, poor, male and female) from the ages 7, 14 and now 21.

The predecessors to this film, 7 Up South Africa and 14 Up South Africa, are not available on DVD.

This series is based in part on Michael Apted's landmark British “Up” Series that began in 1964 and continues to follow the lives of 14 children from different socio-economic backgrounds.

The children, who come from township slums, apartheid-era mansions and the bushveld, confront their early prejudices and attitudes while discussing life, race relations, education, crime and unemployment.

While the personal stories are compelling, so too is the impact technology (Internet and mobile phones), education, HIV/AIDS and political correctness have had on the children's lives.

One black child, who learned English with an American accent from TV shows and was educated in predominantly white schools, now is a construction supervisor, aided by his bilingual ability as well as government-mandated affirmative action policies that reward black-run businesses.

A privileged white boy — now a promising rugby player — comes to grips with the increasing numbers of black teammates while maintaining a vow of celibacy until marriage.

A mixed-race young woman also refrains from sexual activity, cognizant of the fact that AIDS kills 1,000 South Africans each year, including her childhood friend.

21 Up's original group has dwindled to 11 (three kids died of AIDS in the intervening years), but their honesty, dreams and aspirations — seen through time-lapse photography and interviews — remain undeniably strong.

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