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Simon & I

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Beverley Palesa Ditsie and Nicky Newman
Directed by Beverley Palesa Ditsie and Nicky Newman
VHS, color, 52 min.
Sr. High - Adult
African Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, Human Rights, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Lourdes Vazquez and Jane Sloan, Rutgers University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

Although Simon & I relates the story of GLOW, The Gay and Lesbian Organization of Watersrand - South Africa, and its founding organizer Simon Tseko Nkoli, a gay, black, anti-apartheid activist and AIDS patient, this documentary is even more an intimate autobiography of Beverley Palesa Ditsie, black lesbian, activist, singer-songwriter, and filmmaker. Bev was born in Orlando West, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. She became involved with the Lesbian and Gay movement at the founding meeting of GLOW in 1989 and together with Simon organized the first Lesbian and Gay Pride March. At eighteen years old she was the first black lesbian to come out publicly in South Africa, an action that had extraordinary personal consequences, as the publicity sent she and her family into fear and hiding for many weeks.

How Bev became aware that she is lesbian, the development of her political persona, and the connection of her politics to her relationship with Simon, unfolds in a complex of narration, interviews, newspapers clippings (both she and Simon are public figures), and archival footage of speeches and parades, all presented with a soft narrative tone. Her extraordinary love for the magnetic Simon - “Captured by love” she wrote in one of her songs - continues through his three year prison term for treason, through his HIV diagnosis, and despite his lack of attention to the needs of the lesbian community. Simon is someone “prepared to be himself at all costs,” and that is the quality that she wants most to emulate, and to show in the film. One of the primary scenes is of the two of them watching sports (and sometimes footage from her film) on television - it is fragmented, the camera stuck in the living room corner. Returned to throughout the film, this scene displays their camaraderie, and the endearing, soulful quality of their relationship. The historical footage showing the development of the Gay and Lesbian movement in South Africa and their influence in the writing of the new Constitution in South Africa - the first document of its kind in the world that includes “sexual rights orientation” - is of particular importance.

As the filmmaker becomes stronger in her politics and her ambition, her relationship with Simon becomes strained. His lack of support for her attendance at the United Nations IV World Conference in Beijing (as a delegate of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the International Lesbian Information Service, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, among others) was the final reason for their split. “It ain’t working,“ she sings. But Bev did travel to China and became the first African Lesbian to address the United Nations. As she subsequently gravitated towards songwriting, performing, and filming, she saw less of Simon. Towards the end, she attends an outdoor celebration of the 10 year anniversary of GLOW, and he comments to the camera on the long time since he’s seen her, then gibes her about the film paraphernalia she’s brought with her. This kind of openness, typified also by the interview of herself (apparently by herself) holding a guitar, is one of the film’s many strengths. As she describes how Simon “pulled her in,” alternating singing with remembrance, she displays the intent and precise tone that effectively pulls in her audience.

In conceiving this film, she credits Simon with the enormous success of the Gay and Lesbian movement in South Africa. In the execution, she showcases her own artistry in unfolding and bringing to the table the contradictions of the Gay and Lesbian movement, contradictions that still affect the Lesbian community.

is recommended for Senior High, undergraduates and graduate students, as well as libraries with strong Gay and Lesbian and Area Studies collections. It could be of interest for sociology and political science students interested in African Studies as well as literature students researching the topic of memoir and autobiography.