American Black Film Fest 2020 Women Directors: Meet Lineo Sekeleoane – “Zulu Wedding”

Lineo Sekeleoane is an award-winning film and television director and producer. She helmed the short film “My Zulu Promise,” and produced the short “Home Sweet Home” for M-Net and DSTV. “Zulu Wedding” is her feature directorial debut.

“Zulu Wedding” will screen at the 2020 American Black Film Festival, which takes place August 21-30.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

LS: Lu left South Africa and her Zulu-Sotho heritage behind to become a dancer in New York, where she falls in love with ad executive Tex. She knows he’s the man to marry but when she brings him home to meet her family, she is forced to face an ancestral promise to marry the Zulu king.

Lu has to come to terms with who she is so she can fight for what she wants.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

LS: “Zulu Wedding” came out of a traumatic experience that my cousin suffered. Like a lot of South Africans, I use humor to deal with trauma. I often avoid whatever bad thing is happening in front of me and go to my happy place. Years ago my cousin was attacked by a homeless man and I had to take her to the hospital. It was the first time I saw an HIV prick test and as this was happening, I escaped the moment by creating a cop character in my head who uses this prick test on dates before she orders dinner.

Though it was my coping mechanism, I started thinking about this character for weeks after and tried to make a joke of it and told a friend of mine about it and I started developing the lead character’s sister, Mabo, and started interrogating her until the story of her sister, Lu, a dancer living in New York, came to the fore.

It was a twisted way to arrive at a romantic comedy, but I guess that is my process. I live in a bubble and I create happiness in that bubble to help me cope with the world that exists outside that bubble.

W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?

LS: I want people to feel good and hopeful about love, to examine their relationships, and to question the decisions they have made about their relationships, whether it relates to their siblings, their lovers, or their friends. I want them to talk about the secrets that we keep and why we keep those secrets and what the consequences would be.

I love romance and I wish there were more romantic dramas and comedies made in the world.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

LS: Like with most independent films, the biggest challenge was money. It took three years to finish the film because we had to shoot for the money that we had available and then go raise additional money. One of our sponsors ran out of money during our first week of principle photography and could only commit to less than a quarter of the cash they had [originally promised].

Because we were already shooting, and having already raised the entire budget myself as the director-producer, I couldn’t stop shooting to go and raise the shortfall. It put me in a precarious position and it would have been more expensive to stop and start again — having flown three of our actors from the U.S. — so I started selling every asset I owned and putting up every cent I had left.

It was all worth it — scary but worth it. We got it done. It took time, it was very stressful, I had a miscarriage, but I didn’t relent. I really gave it all I could and shooting pregnant was great because I had a supportive crew and cast and because it took so many years, I was able to get to have another successful pregnancy.

“Zulu Wedding” made it easier to deal with so many losses because it kept me busy. It kept me focused on something that I loved — something positive that lifted me up and kept me positive.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

LS: The film was funded through loans, government grants, all my savings, private investors, product placement, sponsorships, and friends’ money. I remember being on set and asking my friend to sell my apartment, which was the most meaningful and valuable gift from my late father. She called my husband and told him because she knew exactly what that apartment meant to me. She came back at the end of the day with great news, she had sold my apartment. She pointed and said, “Just sign here,” and I signed without looking.

At the end of the production, when the mist had lifted, she admitted that she had sold the apartment to my husband. My husband bought the apartment because he knew that the film meant everything to me and if I had to sell organs on the black market, I would.

The product placements were also really helpful. Some of them were sold during post-production. I would add the products using After Effects to help pay for post-production, so that worked out very well.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

LS: I used to watch kung fu action films as a child and there was nothing in life more entertaining. Though there was a language barrier, the films spoke for themselves and I found them very entertaining.

My dad also bought a cinema, and in my family, everyone had to work — I have been working since I was seven years old. All the other businesses opened at 8 a.m. and we would have to be there at 7 a.m. which meant waking up at 6 a.m. The cinema, however, opened an hour later, so I chose to work there just to get a few more hours of sleep.

I took I detour and studied accounting, which I absolutely hated, then I decided to go through my receipts to check where I spent all my money and I realized that I would spend my last cent on a movie. So I quit accounting and enrolled in film school and never looked back.

I cannot really say it was one thing or another but I think this is what I was born to be and it’s what God intended, and the universe conspired to make it happen and left me no other option. I have never been happier.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

LS: The best advice has been “trust your instincts.”

I haven’t really gotten bad advice yet because I take everything with a grain of salt and I understand that we all have such different experiences and some things relate to me and others do not. I listen a lot but I do not act on anything that does not feel right in my spirit. So, to date, nothing has been “bad” advice; it has been advice given but never taken nor applied to my situation.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

LS: Trust your instinct. I think it is important to read a lot, speak to a lot of filmmakers, collaborate with a lot of people, listen a lot, and work with people who know more than you, but above all, trust your instinct.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

LS: “Monsoon Wedding” by Mira Nair. I love wedding movies, and anything about love and relationships. This film was so layered and beautiful and spoke to the core of what every story that touches me deals with: culture and difficult family dynamics. It was shot beautifully as well, and I loved the setting. It gave me an opportunity to see a world that I would otherwise never have access to, but the story was so relatable that it engaged me from beginning to end.

W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?

LS: It has been very difficult but I have managed to get through it by writing scripts and developing series, reading screenplays, and watching movies.

South African studios are open and there are a lot of shoots happening and the funding agencies are now starting to open up so that is quite positive.

I’m always creating and that is what keeps me sane.

W&H: Recent protests in the U.S. and abroad have highlighted racism and anti-Black police brutality. The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?

LS: It is as easy as writing the roles in and making those Black roles as diverse as Black people are. Representation is easy: you just have to do it.

There was an article about Benedict Cumberbatch saying he won’t take a role unless his female co-stars are paid the same. Writers, directors, producers, and actors should take the same stance — let’s simply collectively decide to not make films or take jobs unless they are more inclusive on and off-screen.

August 21, 2020
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