In 1994, director Darrell Roodt filmed his adaptation of Alan Paton's
classic novel of South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country, starring James
Earl Jones and Richard Harris. For the award-winning young director of
such acclaimed anti-apartheid films as Sarafina! and Place of Weeping, Paton's
deeply spiritual story was a plea for reconciliation between whites and
blacks in the New South Africa.
Now he wanted to do something different. "Cry, the Beloved Country
was a wonderful film to make, but it was about the past," says Roodt.
"I wanted to make a film about what's happening in the streets now."
He and his producer Gillian Gorfil considered several contemporary scripts,
but in the end Roodt decided to write his own. Drawing inspiration from
Alan Paton, who showed 1946 Johannesburg through the eyes of a country preacher
looking for his sister, Roodt decided to show contemporary Johannesburg
through the eyes of a young South African who left during the height of
a civil war and grew up in America. " I wanted to explore the new South
Africa through the eyes of an outsider, an exile. Ice Cube was exactly the
right person because he's young, he's got attitude, and he gave the film
the edge it needed."
The celebrated rapper's response to Roodt's story was immediate and positive.
"It's the story of a young man cut off from his roots," says
the actor. "He's cut off from his home and when he finally returns,
he is totally unfamiliar with his surroundings."
"I wanted to make a film about contemporary Africa," the star
continues, "One that would show that black people face the same problems
of poverty and drugs all over the world, whether they're living in South
Central or in Johannesburg."
"Ice Cube is really aware of his audience," says executive producer
Pat Charbonet. "He knows that what he says affects a lot of people,
and his fans know what crack cocaine has done to America. But they don't
know what happened when it hit South Africa."
Roodt and Gorfil auditioned scores of young actresses for the role of Karin
before casting Elizabeth Hurley.
"Darrell and I had met Elizabeth previously for another film,"
says Gorfil, "and we were using photographs of her in our production
office to show how we wanted Karin to look. One day I said to him: 'Why
don't we just get her?'"
"I'm glad we chose her," says Roodt. "Cube has a very strong
persona, and I was worried that he would overwhelm a young South African
actress. Elizabeth Hurley can really stand up for herself -- she's a tough-minded
woman. I think they made a nice balance together."
"Dangerous Ground is a very fast, violent ride, so you see Elizabeth
like you've never seen her before.
Roodt explains that Karin, despite her problems, represents the positive
side of young white South Africans. "The advent of television in South
Africa in 1978 had a tremendous effect on that generation," he explains.
"Suddenly young people were watching 'The Cosby Show' and 'The A-Team'
and seeing George Peppard being friends with Mr. T."
"That generation is coming of age now, and for them it's no problem
that the guy sitting next to them in the restaurant or at the cinema is
black. It's completely believable that Karin would team up with a stranger
to help find her boyfriend."
Eric Miyeni, who played James Earl Jones' doomed son in Cry, the Beloved
Country, plays Karin's boyfriend, Steven, a naive country boy who has been
corrupted by big city ways. To make the point, costume designer Rui Phillipe
gave the young actor "an Ike Turner look," with a Seventies haircut
and lots of electric blues and oranges.
"He is someone who came from a rural area and had to fit into this
tough neighborhood," she says. For Miyeni, his character is also representative
of one kind of young black South African. "Steven carries in him all
the pain carried by all black South Africans," he says. "His
way of dealing with it is to drink and take drugs."
Vusi's middle brother Ernest represents another kind of young South African,
who fought for the African National Congress against white oppression, but
faced disillusion and unemployment when the war was over.
"Ernest has come back from the service to nothing," says Sechaba
Morajale, who plays the character. "He thought he'd be a big hero,
and now he can't even get a job. He's disillusioned and doesn't really
want to do anything. He just hangs out at home."
Vusi's return unleashes all of Ernest's frustration and anger. "Vusi
was a leader to me when I was little," says Morajale, "He was
my older brother. He was like a god. But he's become Americanized. During
our father's funeral, he doesn't want to participate in the ceremony, and
refuses to put on the traditional clothes."
"I feel he's betrayed us because he left. He forgot the struggle and
did his own thing. I also think there's a bit of jealousy in my character.
Vusi comes home after twelve years, driving this BMW, wearing these posh
clothes. Look at me. What do I have?"
Only Steven's death can bring the two brothers together again, by giving
them a new common enemy to fight: the Nigerian drug lord Muki.
That part is played convincingly by Ving Rhames, who became a cult figure
when he played the vengeful Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. Most recently,
he achieved national recognition playing Luther, the super-hacker who teams
up with Tom Cruise to rob the CIA in Mission: Impossible. Rhames brings
sly humor and an imposing presence to the role of Muki, who studies soccer
teams to learn how to win in the deadly game of life.
The other star of Dangerous Ground is South Africa itself, a young, beautiful
but troubled nation at a vital crossroads in its history. Says producer
Gorfil: "Audiences have never seen what we're showing in this movie.
In some ways it's a glorious and hopeful time, but unfortunately there
will always be people -- such as drug pushers -- who take advantage of a
new, young society, and we are a fragile, young society."
"We always think of South Africa as a scene of racial conflict or a
very beautiful rural landscape," says Darrell Roodt. "But I'm
trying to show that it's a crazy mixture of First World and Third World."
To capture this world of contrasts, Roodt created a style for the film which
employed a crazy-quilt mixture of looks and formats. Says the director:
"I've got 16 millimeter film stock in there. I've got black and white.
I've got crazy angles. I stop-start the film and totally mix it up. This
film was made to be accessible to the MTV generation."