Coming from an upbringing in Zambia, a lot of what I watched though were African shows and movies, don’t get it wrong, with cable and without my parents channel restrictions until 4:00PM. Your girl was on it with Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, freaking Hallmark WHOO! We watch your shit too, might as well watch our shit too. I watched all kinds of African shows and movies and I loved them. When the African actors portrayed as teenagers it was usually to display the struggles of peer pressure, identity and family support. These usually tied in to the social context happening at the time during the late 90s and early 2000s, as it would in any other country. Specifically the AIDS phenomenon, high poverty, inequality and fragility of family support. A common movie or series would surround an orphaned teenager living with her relatives who treat her poorly and is shamed perhaps because her parents passed from AIDS. The story would encourage the viewer to feel bad for her shortcomings, while also educating the viewers about the disease and how to care for those left behind. With plenty of subliminal messages about health, religion and temptations of the world. I just assumed the safest way to live and survive is to know your worth, listen to your intuition and abstain because anyone can carry the HIV virus or I could get pregnant.
The most life changing movie for me in the context of living in Zambia as a Rwandan refugee was Sarafina, featuring Whoopi Goldberg. It was the movie that swept most of Southern Africa because it was a story about a high school in South Africa protesting and risking their lives for freedom and equality during the Apartheid. It showed the realistic struggles of survival in poverty while having the barrier of being treated less than. Some teenagers didn’t know how to organize protests and with anger, they attacked the police force working to dismantle protests. This caused many deaths of many main characters and showed the realistic communal grieving and resilience families exhibited. Some choosing to keep fighting for independence or keeping their families safe from the police harassment. Led by a young girl Sarafina, I swayed to the music they sang, more especially the movie’s ionic song “Freedom Is Coming Tomorrow”. Because I watched this girl and her friends believe in freedom that is something that adults dream of but they take action. I looked up to many girls who looked like me or had a personality similar to mine.
This movie incited feelings of peer pressure for me because I was confided to my house and going out to hangout with friends at that time would ignite fury and discipline in my parents. So why fight the hand that feeds you. So I got my social-emotional development by seeing the lives of people like Sarafina. This helped me understand the consequences of peer pressure, understanding that as I can more freedoms, I am more responsible for my actions and the consequences that came with it. I did get a naive sense of what romantic relationships are and how they came to be. As a growing woman, noticing that the lighter skinned girls were considered more beautiful and innocent while darker skinned were louder, dressed poorly and aggressive. So it had me wondering if being a darker skinned woman if anyone would fall in love with me too. Those adolescents in these films gave me knowledge but also added to the list of insecurities my young self already had.
Unfortunately my struggling relationship with my parents didn’t allow me to ask them questions about the changes on my body, wondering if it was possible to lighten my skin and honestly why really do people enjoy sex even with the consequences that comes with it. I was completely clueless and my mother relied on my aunties teaching me about my changes. By the time my period came, I still had no idea what was going on and my mother was shocked that I didn’t know what was happening. The African shows and movies didn’t teach me about how to take care or the foreshadowing my experiences, instead I was always surprised and dismissed. Movies like Sarafina don’t show me the growth to becoming a young girl determined to protect her freedoms. They didn’t normalize my beauty and my growing body, somehow, I was just supposed to know who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.
I am glad I wasn’t placed in situations that would have negatively affected my life outside my family. Now more educated and actively asking colleagues about their growth and social-emotional development. It helps me to know that I am not alone and we made it still healthy with no children.
Thank you for reading Lovelies!
Comment below your favorite teen movie and bonus, how did it help you develop as a young person?