Xoliswa Sithole: 'There's a God in Everybody'

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It’s good to take an opportunity to change the gaze.

Write is an OZY series that features short readings and conversations, hosted by author Sarah Ladipo Manyika.

Xoliswa Sithole has such presence and charisma that even before her documentary films became internationally recognized with BAFTAs and a Peabody, I was already imagining what it might be like to interview her. Fancying myself as the inimitable James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio, I asked Sithole one day:

“What’s your favorite word?”

Xoliswa Sithole

Xoliswa Sithole.

Source James Manyika

“Beautiful,” she answered. “Beauuuuutiful! Beautiful!” she enthused. “And in Amharic, it’s betam konjo. In French, tu es belle, tu es très belle. In Shona, kunaka. In Zulu, umuhle.”

Three years later, without reminding Sithole of our previous conversation, I asked again, “What’s your favorite word?”

“Beautiful!” she exclaimed, instantly.

“Beautiful” is a particularly poignant choice for a filmmaker whose work draws attention to human suffering. Sithole’s films focus on the suffering of women and children in the context of pandemics, war and poverty. These are heavy topics that make for heart-wrenching documentary films. And yet, because Sithole’s work is driven by a fundamental belief in the beauty of humankind, we are left to believe that not only can we do better, but that we must.

OZY thanks San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora for hosting our discussion. There, you might catch a glimpse of works by artists Kara Walker, David Huffman, Yinka Shonibare and Kehinde Wiley.

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