Film review: SWIRL, South Africa, directed and written by Quanita Adams

What: SWIRL: A Love letter to hair on the Cape Flats
Feature film: comedy-drama Director and writer: Quanita Adams Cast: Includes- Chanelle Davids, Vinette Ebrahim, Shaleen Surtie Richards, Ilse Klink, Bianca Flanders, Basil Appollis, Maurice Carpede, Veronique Jepthas, Khadija Heeger, Gerwen Simon, Celeste Matthew-Wannenburgh and Aisha Nel. Language: Afrikaans and English with English subtitles Screening: March 2021 in South Africa- kykNET&kie, DStv channel 145 and Showmax  

During the pandemic, national lockdown, in addition to giving birth to her first child, Quanita Adams, directed her first feature film, SWIRL. Amazing human. In addition to directing, she also wrote the script. And she sings the theme song, She’s a Girl, written for her by Dr. Marc Hendricks. This film is very personal. It emanates from her own experiences of hair, growing up on the Cape Flats and the pressure to tame her so-called “kroes” hair [South African argot- derogatory -for hair which is seen as coarse, untamed etc]. Adams: “My hair is my politics, my feminism, my fashion, my vanity, my defiance, my identity, my defence, my everything and my nothing in particular… it’s complicated!”.

In the film, we see the protagonist, Elaine (Chanelle Davids) battling her hair demons and tussling with her mother and her sleek mane (Ilse Klink) while her ma (grandmother), played by the awesome Shaleen Surtie Richards, give her bobs worth. Elaine’s career as a salon stylist is scuppered. Ultimately, there is a good ending. Adams script is delicious- oozing with South Africanisms, Kaapse Afrikaans (often tagged as Afrikaaps). The sub-titles are excellent. It is about listening to the fusion of English and Afrikaans- knotted with hairy issues which can be lost in translation. Plot spoiler alert: Watch out for Shaleen Surtie Richards quipping about “transitioning” and asking Elaine if she has chosen a pronoun. Terrific writing by Adams.

Yes, this is an important topic.  Women – all people – should be able to wear their locks as they wish. Beyond the issues, SWIRL is a film which taps into family, community and friendship. The film also resonates for me in terms of how hair salons were under lockdown for months in 2020. People pined to get their hair “done”. Home salons proliferated during the pandemic and it became a thing to go speakeasy style to get one’s hair “done”. Names were passed around, covertly. If one’s hair feels ‘good’, it makes a huge difference. Of course as Adams drives home in SWIRL, for many women, their hair expression is definitely not ‘good’, healthy or affirming.

I loved watching this film and seeing some of my favourite South African actors in action, on screen, such as Ilse Klink Vinette Ebrahim, Shaleen Surtie Richards, Ilse Klink, Bianca Flanders and Basil Appollis. SWIRL is a delight – warm, funny, insightful, inspirational – and I hope that it gets released on the big screen.’

SWIRL- comedy film, made in South Africa [release March 2021]. The director and writer is Quanita Adams. Supplied.