In Conversation with Luke Bradford, Jackie Sheppard and Luke Walton on their short film White Gold

White Gold tells the story of Mansa, an African woman living with albinism whose arm was cut off by a witchdoctor. Directed by British filmmaker Luke Bradford and distributed by Reel Issues Films, the short tracks her journey of revenge and self-discovery in order to raise awareness of the persecution of people with albinism. When Bradford first heard of this, he entered the idea for White Gold into Pitch Film Fund, a short film funding competition, which subsequently led to the film’s development alongside Luke Walton and Jackie Sheppard. It premiered at The Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, where it won the Best Narrative Short prize and other prestigious awards including Best Narrative Short at the African Film Festival and Best Acting at Global Impact Film Festival.

Could you tell us what inspired you to develop White Gold?

LB: The initial idea for White Gold came about via a documentary I had been making in Tanzania. There was a missionary couple over from Texas who had set up a sustainable farm that was going to be run by local Tanzanians in order to benefit them, and I was making a documentary about them and their work. Part of it was supporting local people living with albinism. They have all sorts of health conditions and conditions with the sun, but a huge issue is witchdoctors who think that the body parts of people with albinism can be infused with potions to bring prosperity and good luck. I had a chance encounter with a girl called Florence, who had tragically lost both her arms to a witchdoctor in the name of witchcraft. That encounter really kicked me in the soul, so to speak, it really made a massive, massive lasting impression on me. It was that experience when I came away from Tanzania that planted the seed.

At one point in the film, one character tells Mansa “People still believe”, referring to the use of people with albinism’s hair or limbs as a symbol of good luck. How prominent does the persecution of these people remain today?

LB: The official statistics vary depending on where you are reading it. It runs into the hundreds each year in Africa, but what I think is much wider is the fear that people live with. There are tens of thousands of people living with albinism who fear for their lives daily. Going to Tanzania and seeing this was shocking, and the vast majority of people who see this film have a similar experience. They think it’s a work of pure fiction because how could this be true! Even while I was making the documentary, I couldn’t believe this was still happening, and so what we’re trying to do is to communicate what is going on to start a debate around it. The more people who know about it can hopefully bring some sort of positive action out of it.

JS: Ten years ago I was the producer of a film called Africa United, and it took five kids across Africa to the Soccer World Cup, so it was a drama, a road trip, coming of age movie. The original script was seven kids, one of whom was living with albinism, because the writer knew about the situation. Another kid was living with HIV, one was a former child soldier, one was a former sex worker. They all had something going on in their lives and we wanted to include the issue of albinism, but seven kids and the script became too difficult so we had to lose two of the kids, one of which was Pete, the kid with albinism. So when Luke’s story came along, I thought it was brilliant that we had the chance to right that wrong. It’s tragic though that ten years on, nothing has changed and we’re still having to tell that story.

LW: I think it’s interesting as you list those other characters who were in Africa United, Jackie, that when we think about sex workers or child soldiers we can think of news items around those issues. But there is nothing like that for people with albinism and in fact, Luke, when you went searching for films that had someone with albinism in a leading role, there was nothing. There are the twins with albinism in the second of The Matrix films (The Matrix Reloaded) but they are unremittingly evil. There is literally nothing that depicts anybody living with albinism in a positive role in any kind of way that brings it to life.

LB: Yeah, this was a very interesting part of the research as Luke said there. When I was doing research I found that people with albinism tended to be represented as the bad guys, villains, freaks in sci-fi movies. I could only find one film, one feature film, that had someone with albinism in the lead role and a story being told through their eyes. One film! This was yet another reason to tell this story; it’s just so rare.

One part of the film has Mansa read a book and focus on the line, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Would you say White Gold also demonstrates the self-destructive nature of revenge?

LB: Sure! Well, that actually comes from a different section of my life which is recovery from excessive use of drink and drugs in my twenties. I went into recovery and I’ve continuously been sober for eleven years no