By Don Simpson | September 10, 2015
Director: Catherine Stewart
Writers: Vanessa Herman, Amy Jephta, Matthew Krouse, Nodi Murphy
Starring: Petronella Tshuma, Camilla Lilly Waldman, Sandi Schultz, Thishiwe Ziqubu, Sibongile Mlambo, Tina Jaxa, Lionel Newton, Terence Bridgett, Fezile Mpela, Pascual Wakefield, Jill Levenberg, Malefane Mosuhi
Catherine Stewart’s While You Weren’t Looking tells the story of two star-crossed lovers from different sides of the proverbial tracks in Cape Town. Asanda (Petronella Tshuma) is the daughter of an affluent mixed-race lesbian couple, Dez (Sandi Schultz) and Terri (Camilla Lilly Waldman). Despite having a boyfriend, Asanda fatefully ends up kissing Shado (Thishiwe Ziqubu), a tomboy from the slums. Upon meeting Shado, Dez and Terri recognize that their 18-year-old daughter is still experimenting and defining herself; they do not want to dissuade her from doing so, but it obviously scares them that Shado is from such a low social status. But while Dez and Terri are too distracted by troubles with their own relationship, Asanda ends up making some unwise choices. Asanda is obviously trying to be progressive and not think of people in terms of their social class, but the culture shock proves to be way too much for her to handle.
On paper, While You Weren’t Looking may seem like it is a parable about the horrors of mingling with lower classes, but in reality it presents the difficulties of interclass relations without commenting on whether it is right or wrong. The moral of While You Weren’t Looking is to tread carefully and smartly when venturing too far out of your comfort zone. It is Asanda’s naivety that is criticized, not Shado’s neighborhood (the Khayelitsha Township). Shado’s friends do not accept Asanda because they recognize her purely as a tourist, but they only want to intimidate her, not hurt her. When Asanda does get put at risk, it has absolutely nothing to do with her class, only her being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Interjections from a queer theory class provides While You Weren’t Looking with an intellectualism that cleverly compliments and comments upon the narrative. It also informs Stewart’s approach to the material, specifically her desire to normalize queer culture in South Africa.
While You Weren’t Looking screens as part of the 28th annual Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF). For more information, check out the aGLIFF Program.