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With the exception of 2007′s “Pride” (based on real life swimming coach Jim Ellis) images of Blacks engaging in any kind of water sport are pitifully rare.  Behind closed doors, women joke about not wanting to get their hair wet or how surfing and water skiing is for “White folks.”  In the emotionally stunning “Otelo Burning” director Sara Blecher turns this dated stereotype right on its head as three young men find freedom in the deep blue sea.

Set in 1988, two years before  Nelson Mandela’s release, New Year (Thomas Gumede), Otelo (Jafta Mamabolo) and his little brother Ntwe (Tshepang Mohlomi) are introduced to the joys of surfing by Mandla (Sihle Xaba).  Otelo takes to the sport like a fish to water and soon surpasses his friends as the best surfer of the bunch, which sets up a silent rivalry between Otelo and Mandla with tragic consequences.

“Otelo Burning” never shies away from the harsh realities of apartheid, which hovers like a silent spectre in every corner.  But despite the political oppression, these characters refuse to accept the status quo by nurturing their own dreams and ambitions.

“Otelo Burning” will initially grab your attention with its beautiful cinematography, but captivate your mind and heart with its moving tale of love, friendship, and courage.  It definitely deserves its place among other classic coming of age movies like “Boyz N The Hood”, “City of God” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien.”

You can purchase “Otelo Burning” on iTunes.



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“Otelo Burning”: South African Teens Find Freedom Through Surfing  was originally published on