From the Arabic ‘barakah’, meaning ‘blessings’. In Cape Malay culture, a barakat is a paper bag with cakes, fruits and sweets shared amongst friends and neighbours.
How does a family move on after the death of a father? That is the question at the heart of South Africa’s first Muslim film in Afrikaans. The film is directed by Amy Jephta and produced by Ephraim Gordon, co-founders of production company PaperJet Films, and is scheduled for release in cinemas in May 2021.
Aisha Davids, a widow, has to preserve the peace between four sons struggling to come to terms with the death of their father, two years after the fact. Zunaid, Zaid, Yaseen and Nur return to their family home to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr (or Labarang, as it’s called in Cape Town), the celebration that marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan. They’ve never dealt with their father’s death and the void he has left behind. Each son’s unprocessed pain manifests in constant familial conflict, saddening their mother as she tries to move on with her own life.
Barakat, an Arabic word meaning blessings, is a story about celebrating life, culture and the importance of family. Veteran actress Vinette Ebrahim plays the role of the matriarch, Aisha Davids, while her four sons are played by Joey Rasdien, Mortimer Williams, Keeno-Lee Hector and Danny Ross. The cast also includes Quanita Adams, Bonnie Mbuli, Leslie Fong and June van Merch.
Barakat was filmed in Lansdowne and Athlone on the Cape Flats and features the local community as well as one of the local mosques. The ethos of the story filtered through to the production team, with many members of the crew themselves Muslim. To respect the tradition of Jumu’ah, a prayer that Muslims hold every Friday in congregation, no filming took place on Fridays. This was important for the filmmakers intention to respect Cape Muslim tradition and culture in making the film.
The screenplay is by writing-producing team Amy Jephta and Ephraim Gordon, who made their debut at South Africa’s 2017 kykNET Silwerskerm Festival with their short film SOLDAAT (Soldier), for which they won Best Screenplay and Best Short. Jephta, a celebrated theatre practitioner, director and writer, also scripted South Africa’s official 2018 Golden Globes submission for Foreign Film, Ellen: The Story of Ellen Pakkies. In 2019, she was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year award for theatre. Actor and director Gordon starred in Nosipho Dumisa’s critically acclaimed 2018 debut, Number 37, which made history with its premiere at SXSW.
Through PaperJet Films, Jephta and Gordon aim to tell stories that change the narratives around the Cape Flats in South Africa and shift the focus away from the violence with which these communities are often portrayed.
It was important for both filmmakers to depict the Cape Muslim community in a positive light. Gordon says, “The Cape is a melting pot of cultures, with an exciting diversity in black communities, and we wanted to show people that regardless of faith they can watch the film and proudly say, ‘This is our reality’.
Cultural experts including Abduragman Adams, Yazeed Kamaldien, Khalil Kathrada, Moeniel Jacobs, Jawaahier Petersen, Iman Isaacs and Ayesha Khatieb, who hail from a cross sector of the local entertainment industry, were advisers for Jephta and Gordon, helping ensure the screenplay is respectful of the cultural and religious nuances in the story. With their approval, Jephta and Gordon were able plan the production phase of the film with sensitivity. Jephta has taken on the role of director for this, her first full-length feature, while Gordon is responsible for production.
They say that although the film focuses on the Davids’ family drama, there are many laugh-out-loud moments in what is sure to be a gripping contemporary tale.