SIMON & I 00:53:39

Target Audience

Youth and adults

Key Issues

Advocacy and activism

Gender and sexuality

Gay and lesbian issues

Film Outline

Simon and I recounts the lives of two giants in the South African gay and lesbian liberation movement, Simon Nkoli and the film maker herself, Bev Ditsie. The story is narrated by Bev, both as a personal statement and a political history. Through good times and bad, their relationship is viewed against a backdrop of intense political activism and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Their converging and diverging lives, culminating in Simon ‘s death, are revealed in this heartfelt testament using a mixed format of interviews and archive footage.

Questions For Discussion

  • What is the message of this film?
  • What are the challenges Beverly has faced as a black lesbian?
  • ‘I am black and I am gay. I cannot separate the two parts of me into secondary or primary struggle. They will be all one struggle.’ What do you think Simon means by this statement?
  • Can you identify with Simon and Bev’s struggle?
  • How did you feel about gay and lesbian people before seeing the film? How do you feel now?
  • What rights do gay and lesbian people have in your country?

Synopsis:

Simon & I recounts the lives of two giants in the South African gay and lesbian liberation movement, Simon Nkoli and the film maker herself, Bev Ditsie. The story is narrated by Bev, both as a personal statement and a political history, as she charts their relationship through good times and bad. Their converging and diverging lives around the central issues of gay activism and HIV/AIDS are revealed using a mixed format of interviews, archive footage of main events, stills and newspaper clips.

Chief role players such as Judge Edwin Cameron and Zackie Achmat are interviewed and give credence to Bev’s portrayal of Simon Nkoli as a world leader, whose own history as a political activist legitimized gay activism in South Africa. 

But, with Simon’s HIV-positive status and regular illnesses, the increasing emphasis on issues to do with AIDS resulted in a loss of momentum within the gay and lesbian liberation movement itself. Bev recounts how she started to feel marginalized from the organization, both as a woman and as a black person. 

Bev pieces together the story of her personal and political journey from her days as a lonely and isolated Tomboy in Soweto to her present occupation as an activist, filmmaker and musician. She met Simon when, aged 17, she attended the first meeting of the Gay and Lesbian Organization of the Witwatersrand (GLOW) where she remembers how impressed she was by his leadership qualities and political clout. He had just been released after four years in detention.

At the first Pride March the following year in 1990, Simon made the speech that was to have an everlasting impact on Bev. She saw that her oppression was two-fold, first as a lesbian and then as black. She aligned herself to Simon’s personal struggle when he declared “I must fight for both”.

The film bears witness to the role of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) in lobbying for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Bill of Rights and ultimately in the new Constitution. 

Nevertheless, after the fourth International Conference on Women in Beijing, Bev left GLOW, angry that members of her own movement did not see why they should be represented at such an event. She and Simon became estranged as he increasingly came to represent people living with AIDS.

Reconciled shortly before his death in 1998, these formidable characters bear witness to the enormous sacrifices required of human rights activism. This searing testament shows us two different, powerful personalities, but only one struggle. 

Director’s Biography:

Beverley Palesa Ditsie 

Besides her well-documented career as a human rights activist, Bev Ditsie has worked in the television and film industry as a director, producer, presenter, actor and voice-over artist. She has directed countless music videos and her TV directing work includes Love Life Games- Love life SA, Take 5 and Arts Unlimited Diary. She has also contributed stories and columns to various publications, such as Curve and Outright. Simon & I  is the first documentary she has directed.

Nicky Newman 

Nicky Newman graduated from Rhodes University with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies as well as an honours degree in Psychology.  After living and working in the print sector in London and Hong Kong, Nicky returned to South Africa and set up production company See Thru Media. 

She has produced, directed, shot and edited a number of documentaries, educational programmes, short films and music videos. Documentary titles include The Architecture of Fear, Whole World Comes Out to Play and Across the Line.   Nicky will be attending the Maurits Binger Film Institute for the latter part of this year with a feature film script for development.

Directors’ Comments:

Briefly describe what your film is essentially about ?

The film is a personal journey through the gay and lesbian history in South Africa, and in particular the relationship between myself and gay and HIV/AIDS activist, Simon Nkoli.

What was your experience in the making of your film?

It’s been exhilarating and frightening. The story is so deeply personal, that there have been many times when I thought I couldn’t go through with it. It has been very hard. At the same time, it’s exciting to finally do it. I am facing my past, documenting it and putting it to rest. I have really learned a lot, and still continue to learn.

How would you describe the value of the message embodied in your film to potential audiences?

The message of the film is that self-acceptance and acceptance of others is important. We need to learn not to judge or mistreat people just because they are different to us. We can’t all be the same. Our differences have to be celebrated, not rejected.

How would you describe your film in the context of HIV/AIDS?

The film pays tribute to Simon Nkoli, who was one of the first African gay men to come out about his sexuality and his HIV status. He was also on the forefront of HIV/AIDS education in the townships of Gauteng before he died of an Aids-related illness. Because HIV/AIDS was considered a gay man’s disease, the film also attempts to show how the gay and lesbian community has responded to the disease. 

Please provide any further comments relevant to the film project.

I believe that it is important for all of us to tell our history, lest it be forgotten – especially in our country, where the birth of a new democracy has created a need to forget and disregard our past. The technical assistance that has been provided has helped us with the script and the concept of the film. It’s been amazing. There’s a wealth of great stories in our country and sub-continent, and I hope that STEPS for the Future opens up many more doors for other filmmakers, young and old, to tell these stories.

Credits:

Production Company            

See Thru Media    

Directors                            

  • Beverley Palesa Ditsie
  • Nicky Newman    

Producer                            

Nicky Newman    

Production assistants            

  • Ria Greyling
  • Mpho Fume
  • Natasha Gordon

Cinematographer                 

Nicky Newman 

Photography                       

  • Nicky Newman
  • Natalie Haarhoff
  • Phybia Dlamini
  • Done’ Rundell
  • Penny Flascis
  • Beverley Ditsie

Sound                                

Leslie Mntambo            

Editor                                 

Michael Brian Waugh    

Music                                 

  • Beverley Ditsie
  • Hugh Masebenza

Professional Support           

  • Jakob H¿gel 
  • John Webster