I, Mary

It's an intimate study of suffering and redemption

'I, Mary' is an intimate study of suffering and redemption

By Precious 'Mamazeus' Nwogu

AlikiSaragas-Georgiou's penetrating documentary, I, Mary follows the remarkable story of South African albinism activist ReginaMary Ndlovu, a woman who surmounts great tragedies to find her voice. 

From its opening scene, the film commands audience attention. Ndlovu, the protagonist opens with a narration of what it means to be an albino woman living in Africa. Double jeopardy it seems. Her experience is peppered with gory tales of ritual killings and fears of mutilation influenced by superstitious beliefs that albino body parts are good luck charms.

Ndlovu's introductory accounts, brutal as they are, come as no surprise really. News reports every other day affirm this reality. People born with albinism in these parts are at risk of suffering sexual violence.

I, Mary, however, pushes beyond the statistics with its survivor account of an endlessly inspiring protagonist. Ndlovu's story is one of immense tragedy, tracking her experience with sexual abuse and feelings of self-loathing, suicide and finally, salvation.

Recounting her very first experience of sexual abuse, Ndlovu bravely shares how her eight-year-old self was lured by a much older family acquaintance with the promise of sweets. Her parents remarkably, never discuss this incident. Raped and silenced, Ndlovu continues with even more graphic details of sexual abuse, events that her young self would interprete and rationalize as acts of mercy and love.

Saragas-Georgiou does a fine job presenting Ndlovu's story of pain and redemption, alternating it with scenes of Ndlovu’s life as a talk show host and activist while demonstrating, clearly the visual limitations of people with albinism. 'I cannot see beyond my toes,'  Ndlovu says as she shares her struggles with school on account of this disability. Despite this, Ndlovu has amassed a stack of certificates and technological tools to aid her use of social media. Talk about inspiring.

A particularly moving scene that brings the documentary to its climax has Ndlovu in a difficult conversation with her mother, where she reveals that her mother had hit her after she first discovered she was raped at eight. The moments that follow are cathartic for both Ndlovu and the audience. The culture of silence forced on victims of rape and sexual violence has been the greatest hindrance to justice and I, Mary scores precious points for highlighting this menace as well as the effects of victim-blaming.

Beyond the documentary's intriguing story is the filmmaker's style. Ever so often, Saragas-Georgiou attempts to push motifs to the consciousness of her audience. Water for instance. Ndlovu sometimes floats underwater, as a way of expressing surrender and perhaps a passage. Only when she finds her silver lining is she truly able to succumb to her pain. While this presentation is agreeably cliche, it falls in sync with the narrator's experience.

Although artistic representation is not a strong point of I, Mary, the film successfully drives its themes home and is worthy of appreciation.

This story emanates from the Talent Press, an initiative of Talents Durban in collaboration with the Durban FilmMart.

The views of this article reflect the opinions of the film critic, Precious 'Mamazeus' Nwogu.