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After a fight in a bar, Johannesburg gang leader Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) impulsively steals a woman's car, only to discover a baby in the back seat. He tries to care for the child in secret, eventually forcing recently widowed mother Miriam (Terry Pheto) to help him. As their relationship slowly progresses, Tsotsi is forced to confront his violent nature and forgotten past. Infused with pumping, high-energy Kwaito music, writer/director Gavin Hood's film is an extraordinary portrait of the choices we make in life and the personal triumph that comes from choosing love over rage. South Africa's official selection for Academy Award consideration.


I remember my mother telling me about the first time she was carjacked. And the second. The first time, she was helping my grandmother carry groceries from her car parked on a quiet street into my grandmother’s modest suburban home. Three men were passing by. They pointed guns and demanded that my mother hand over her car keys. (My grandmother was already inside the house.) My mother refused. One gunman grabbed her handbag. She held on. They struggled. He fired a shot into the air. His friends ran. My mother kicked him in the groin. (She’d done six weeks of self-defense training at her ladies bend-and-stretch club so she knew a few moves.) The handle of the bag snapped. The attacker ran. My mother was unharmed.

My father and I were distressed. She could have been shot.

But my mother doesn’t believe anyone is really a “bad person.” Still, she agreed that if it ever happened again she’d relinquish her keys.

It happened again. Outside my parent’s home.

My father is in the driver’s seat. My mother is seated beside him. It is night. They have been to dinner with friends. They pull up in front of their motorized security gate. Before the gate is fully open—it moves slowly on poorly lubricated motors—a car with four gunmen inside pulls up behind them.

My father raises his hands. Through his side window a gun is aimed at his head. He gets out of the car as requested. His attacker snatches his cell phone. Presses the gun to my father’s throat. Pats for his wallet. The man’s eyes, my father will later say, are so angry. So dark. So full of hate. My father is silent and does not resist.

But my mother is talking, as a young thug snatches her necklace, drawing blood.

“You don’t really mean to be doing this,” she says. “What would your mother think?”

“Just give him what he wants.”

My father is trying to stay calm. My mother is trying to communicate.

My father’s attacker wants the car keys. My father is offering them when the alarm in the house starts to scream. It has been set off by a man who has tended my parent’s garden for about 20 years. He has seen what is happening at the gate from inside the house.

The gunmen panic and run for their car. They drive away at speed. No one is shot. This means there is nothing to gripe about. My parents are alive. It could have been worse. In Johannesburg, you move on.

But I couldn’t move on.

Of course it didn’t happen to me—though I’ve had my moment at the end of a knife with ten heavies around me. I walked away without my wallet. Big deal. I just felt like a fool for listening to the crying ten-year-old kid who needed my help and got me close enough to an alley to be hustled off the main street. Nothing serious.

But over my mother, I was angry. With her attackers, with my country, with its history, with every dumb political decision that has lead to this state of affairs. And with myself for feeling helpless to protect my elderly parents from random acts of violence.

I fixated on how my mother could have been so stupid as to seek to engage in a maternal conversation with an out-of-control gangster waving a gun in her face. It’s not like she doesn’t know people get killed. A neighbor was shot in his driveway. Another was stabbed to death in her home. So why would my mother risk getting shot by engaging in a pointless conversation? I mean she really did ask: “What would your mother say?”

As I said, my mother doesn’t believe anybody is really “all bad.” Not deep down.

Is she naïve? Of course. But I knew when I read Athol Fugard’s extraordinary novel that I needed to tell a story about a young kid who waves a gun in people’s faces but really needs to engage in a conversation about his mother.