Professor Jonathan Hyslop recently contributed an article to a forum in the journal Safundi on the documentary film ‘Searching for Sugar Man.’ The movie won the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 2012 Academy Awards.
It tells the story of how music recorded in the 1970s by Sixto Rodriguez, a Latino construction worker from Detroit, developed a cult following in South Africa. There, his songs became associated with opposition to the authoritarian apartheid government. But strangely enough, the artist did not know of his fame in the southern hemisphere, and South African fans thought, wrongly, that their hero was internationally famous.
The movie recounts how two South Africans tracked down Rodriguez, who had long given up performing, and how this led him to a new career as a minor international rock star. In the Safundi forum, a number of critics argued that ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ is misleading and is ultimately conservative in its implications.
Hyslop, however, contends in his article that the film, while flawed, opens up some important sociological issues about youth, politics and global cultural connections. He shows how the influence of the American ‘counter-culture,’ of which Rodriguez was part, can validly be understood as an element contributing to change in South Africa (although a small one). And he suggests that the movie has a positive message about the working class in America.
Professor Hyslop’s article can be read on his academia.edu page.