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 now, and a lot of the work we do in recovery is around resentment, getting rid of it and understanding how powerful and how destructive it is. Resentment is known as the number one offender for alcoholics and addicts, but it also plays into the Bible verse, the underlying theme in Job, of restoration and redemption of character. Mansa doesn’t forgive in this story, but she begins her journey of forgiveness and that will ultimately be the restoration of her character. So there are lots of deep things going on, which is why we are now developing the feature film. Hopefully, this will allow us greater time to expand on these stories and themes and connect with people all over the world, which is our new mission.
I definitely noticed that Mansa seems to isolate herself from the people who love her, such as from the children who want her to start teaching them again. What was the importance of mental health and the impact of traumatic experiences, to the story of White Gold?
LB: I think Mansa is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She has been through such trauma that her whole world is becoming smaller and smaller as her desire for revenge grows. As a result of that, everything in her life is falling apart, including her ability to be able to communicate with the ones she loves the most. Mansa was a school teacher that set up a small classroom in her home. It's all very humble, but the effect it has on the local community is great. She is pulling in people with albinism and she is a much-needed resource for children in the village. She loves these kids, she sees herself in them, and she is pushing them away, she can’t look them in the eye, she can’t be around them because she is turning into something else, she’s turning into her enemy. She’s at a crossroads, she can become the monster that Natron [the witchdoctor] is, or she can begin her journey of forgiveness.
LW: I think one of the reasons why Luke’s film was originally chosen by the panel at Pinewood Studios when we were holding our finals at the NFTS was that the panel could see the richness in the short form of these many themes that you have touched on, the mental health, the persecution, justice and injustice. You see themes come together but not often in the short film form without being overly complicated. The richness of storytelling is one of Luke’s gifts and injecting some Paul Greengrass energy into the action is the desired approach.
LB: I heard a saying recently that goes something like, “choose your enemies wisely, because you become who they are in fighting them.” And that is very much what happens with Mansa, at that moment of decision, she can become the monster or go away from the monster.
Before you leave, where can our readers find you on social media?
LB: For the film, all of the social media platforms are the same: @thepitchwhitegold! Instagram is probably the first one I would highlight because it is very visual and you can see the trailers on there and that’s great!
LW: Our website for the pitch is www.enterthepitch.com and Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/thepitchuk/! https://twitter.com/thepitch?lang=en
Edited by Juliette Howard, Film Editor