Tag - South Africa

Kenneth Fok Talks Male Communication and the Dangers of South Africa Today

ATM: What does your interaction with Matthew McConaughey’s character exhibit about male on male communication?

KF: Lionel and Dill have known each other for a few years, but there is still a duel every time they communicate. Matthew’s character is always obsessed with something that is inside of his head or an obsession with the thing he is after. In terms of the interaction, it is very off the cuff when they are trying to handle the best price for the fish. It is a very simplistic way of communicating with each other. He is trying to extort money from me. I am trying to get the cheapest price from him. It is much of a case of haggling, this is the way I see it. The relationship does not really go deep. This is my second time working with Matthew. The first time working with Matthew was on The Dark Tower. It was a total interaction with this character. The characters are much more familiar with each other in this film Serenity.

ATM: What if in this scene there was only silence? No sound at all and all we saw was nonverbal communication. Now, how does this change the communication?

KF: Looking back on the day our interaction. Matthew’s character, Baker Dill, seems so distant from the present throughout the movie. My character, Lionel, is curious about his intentions with the gossip from the town’s residents, but there is a red herring in the film about a character trying to track him down.  Lionel is trying to communicate with Dill but there’s constant deflection. There is a very different way of communicating. One is present and interactive. The other is not within this realm at this point.

ATM: What is something that would be deemed an obsession to you but a hobby to an average person?

KF: Films. A lot of people enjoy films, but I watch to the point of obsession and breaking scenes down. I seem to do this subconsciously that it’s become second nature. It has always been an analytical way for me when watching films. While on set I am analyzing and assessing how other actors approach a role and prepare for a role. For me films and tv series are my obsession.

ATM: What is the strategic thought that first enters your mind while in this stage of analyzing films?

KF: Believability. It is different ways of portraying a character. For me it is believability. If you feel what the character feels, then for me this is your first point of contact to pass the test or not. If you do not buy what they are selling, then they have not done their job. This to me is your number one go to. Do you believe them or not? Do you feel their pain? Do you feel whatever they are trying to portray of their character at this point? Everyone has an innate sense of whether someone is telling the truth or not.

ATM: Do you agree that the set design for how the Escape Room was made can metaphorically be someone’s mind when they tap out of reality?

KF: For sure. The sets on Escape Room were phenomenal. When watching these sets in film, you have the added benefit during post production to wrap up the quality. It is quite amazing what they can do. It warps your mind into what is or isn’t reality. These sets take you to a different dimension and really play with your mind – to play on your mind of what is real and what is not real. It is like a third or second Character. It is multiple characters in this case, a character in itself. Different sets have different personalities. The escape goes from one room to the next to see what the clues are to escape it.

ATM: How can a person having ownership get in the way of things?

KF: In Looming Tower, having ownership can cloud your mind. A lot of it was the CIA vs. FBI. I think once the agencies claimed ownership on their intel that’s when it got clouded and ownership became the focus and not the best interest of the country at the end of the day. Prior to 9/11, they were working almost as separate entities. A disaster like 9/11 made them wake up. There is maybe a pride involved and you cannot see this unless something tragic happened.

ATM: How do you handle ownership in your life when you have a huge responsibility?

KF: It is with a humbled heart. Ownership covers a lot of things. If you are talking about ownership of one’s self. If you are talking about ownership in spirituality or the existential meaning of this. It is just taking ownership of who you are within the context of the people around you. In today’s society, in the world of selfies and your status, how many likes you are getting, it makes you lose your ownership of yourself. Maybe it starts being owned by the world. I would like it to be close to home and not be out there as much. Ownership within my immediate circle and just keeping it humble, trying to keep it closer to home and not being out there as much and let the responsibility have a ripple effect from that.

ATM: Where in your life do you feel you are a warrior?

KF: You have to be a warrior while living life every day. Especially living in South Africa. It feels like you have to be a warrior every day. It sounds extreme, but if you are not a warrior these days you will get swallowed up. If you heard it or not – living in South Africa, there is a high crime rate. As soon as you step out of the security of your home, you are in the big bad world of Johannesburg. You must be a warrior in this sense to be aware of your surroundings. I am not kidding or blowing this up! If you are in your car, stopped at a light, then, you are constantly observing to see if it is okay or if there are hijackers out there. Is there smash and grabs out there, which happen quite often. It is just survival of the fittest whether you are in a job situation to fight for the right to be at your job. This turmoil is an everyday life especially in the city.

ATM: What is a misconception of a white South African male today and what is the reality of a white male’s presence in South Africa?

KF: That they are privileged. South Africa has gone through such a transition. To me, being honest, it is kind of a regression than progression. Trump and just his way of dealing with situations, his abrasive nature of dealing with people. It is just regressing. I come back to be a warrior. If you are not a warrior out there, then you are going to get left behind. There are a lot of misconceptions of white males in South Africa. There is a big turnaround in terms of the job situation. You are less likely to get a job as a white male in South Africa. This is the truth and the reality in South Africa as a white male.

ATM: White males are not of the dominant like in America?

KF: Yes, for the most part. If you are a white male looking for a job in South Africa, then you are probably way down on the list. With the whole history of Apartheid, they have been trying to introduce a new way of dealing with the post-Apartheid situation. The privileges that white males had before are no longer. It is trying to get to the state of equality. Black people or Indian people or Asians have been given these opportunities more today.

ATM: South Africa’s way of fixing the racist behavior was to marginalize the white male.

KF: It is about the BEE, the Black Economic Empowerment. You are trying to give preference to the previously disadvantage. Before the white male had an advantage. It has very much been reversed and a part of South Africa. I am waiting to see when the playing field is leveled, and it is the best person for the job and not your skin color. The balance has to be tipped the other way around. We have spent over 20 years now, since the democratic South Africa, now we can level the playing field. Make it the best qualified person for the job.

ATM: They are giving black people and other marginalized races a chance. They have become the dominant. Whereas, before the white male was the dominant.

KF: Yes.

ATM: Has this truly and honestly made a white male understand how black people were once horribly and systematically treated? Because of this societal switch do white males get it now that they are living it and reserve psychology has been done?

KF: I think it does give them some kind of perspective. It is almost a role reversal. I am a Chinese male in South Africa, and we did not have this privilege back in the day. We had to ask for permission to buy houses or to be someone’s neighbor. It may put them in the shoes of what happened before. It is quite a real thing when before you saw a black beggar but now there are white beggars. This is the reality of South Africa. You can put yourself in their shoes as to how it was before but only to some extent.

ATM: Some might not know this in America.

KF: It has been in the news in South Africa. I am not sure what outside of Africa how the rest of world sees what is going on here. What do you guys think? To see what is happening in your own country, I wonder what people from outside of my country see what you see. Do they still have the stereotype of looking at South Africa? Whatever this stereotype might be.

ATM: From my perspective, I mostly see information and news about politics and about the government overall. Some know there are some white people in South Africa. There is not a little of talk or the media does not really show your side of what has just been said. Some people think of various ages that Africa has a high rate of starving children. It is not judging the person for thinking this way, but it is to question what the media is putting out to make people think like this.

KF: People are surprised when they come to South Africa. What they thought of South Africa compared to what they experience is a total mind shift for them. They are pleasantly surprised. We do not have tigers and elephants in our backyards.

ATM: Also, some people still think Africa is all poverty.

KF: As much as the rich get richer, there is a big part of society where there is a shortage of jobs.  A lot of people on the ground are not happy with what they were promised from this government. They feel progression is very slow. There is a lot of frustration in this. It is a difficult one to balance out.

ATM: What information from the media do you receive about America when in South Africa? What do they tell you about America?

KF: There is so much fake news these days. I try to keep up more with world news and not local news. From the reliable news outlets, from what I have seen that it is interesting is the impact America has on the rest of the world economically. It is quite a scary situation. You just have to wait and see what Trump’s move is. What he says. What he tweets. This almost has a knock-on effect on the world’s economy, which is quite scary. I am quite sure that perhaps he realizes the power he has in his hands. A lot of people are afraid of this. I see a very segregated America. What you are seeing on T.V today almost reflects what you saw on T.V during the 60s and 70s. If you had a split scene to put these two images together, then has America really progressed? I do not know. This is my perspective on America at this point. The world is in a scary place.

Nathalie Boltt Talks Nelson Mandela, Stereotypes and Cultures

ATM: How can the understanding of climate change help a person understand this issue related to the Palm Oil?

NB: I think everyone understands climate change at this point. You do not have to know the major details. You just have to understand that we have thrown ourselves out of balance as people. Our planet is getting warmer and our weather is changing. Any day you watch the news to see fires, wild storms, and the completely unusual changes in temperature from extreme cold in places where it did not use to have this happen. The danger is people feel overwhelmed and they do not know what to do about it. They think: “I am one person.” You have a teenager at school going “I feel like I have no control over my life because my parents make these choices. So, what do I do?”

A lot of people have told me that watching my post on Palm Oil has inspired them to do their school project on it. They have done presentations and their school has taken on the project, without having known about the issue before. But now know what is going on, so one person has made a difference. This is good because everyone feels involved.

Also, the positive side to social media is that anyone can build their following if they are passionate enough and talk about what they are passionate about. This could be deforestation, climate change, saving species, or getting plastic out of the ocean. We have a voice now through social media. This can be very empowering. You can find your tribe of people who feel the same way. There is so much you can do in terms of connecting with people who can support your cause, finding friends with the same values and voicing your worries. I didn’t have that as a kid, so the Internet is a blessing if you use it right.

ATM: When you were younger why did you not know how to help people?

NB: Because this was before the internet. In South Africa, where I grew up, we had very little access to real information during the Apartheid years. We did not have T.V until late. This was controlled by the government. So, our information about our society, was told to us in the newspapers. We did not know how black people were being treated. I was living in this strange bubble. And when the government changed and Nelson Mandela came out of prison, I realized I had been living a complete lie. I watch what is going on in America now and go “Wow, it is going backward. In terms of integration and compassion and acceptance of all ethnicities and belief systems, we are going backward.” After what I experienced in South Africa, where a society woke up and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that allowed victims and perpetrators to speak and apologize and heal, I feel saddened and extremely frustrated witnessing the enabling of separation that is going on in the US. But I am very hopeful it will change. I know it will. Because we can speak up through social media. Unlike in South Africa in the 80s, where these outlets didn’t yet exist.  The only people who I could speak to as a kid were my school friends and teachers. I could ask my parents how I could help. My mom always made me aware of people in need. At university, my friends, whose parents had been involved int he anti-anti-apartheid struggle, made me aware of what had really been going on in our country. They taught me to question everything, to think for myself, to be proud of standing up for a cause.

With regards to my passion for conservation, my mother helped me speak out about my passion for the environment. She helped me. She has a huge heart and has spent her life connected to animals. Our home was a zoo of saved animals! So of course, that has influenced me. The connection to another species and our natural world is deeply therapeutic.

ATM: Going back to growing up in apartheid South Africa, If the newspapers showed something went wrong, then you believed it no matter what. You did not have anyone coming out saying their opinion whether it was fake or real.

NB: You just ate it all up. Especially as a kid, you trust people. You think this is true. You just go with it and it is only much later you go “Oh, wow. That was nonsense. We believed a lie.” This has made me who I am today. I have great compassion for all communities and cultures. I have a great understanding of how you can be one thing and then turn out and become something different as long as someone just explains to you what is going on. I always encourage people on my social media to not get angry, shout, and lecturer people about anything. This does not start the conversation, but it ends the conversation. It ends up like where we are at in America, where certain groups of people are allowed hate whatever is not them. They are encouraged to fear ‘the other.’ This never solves anything. Fear can lead to violence and violence never solves anything. Never.

ATM: Although we are in the early parts of the 21st century, there are some American people who still believe there are no white people living in South Africa. This is totally not true. I would not blame them. I would blame what society puts out about how Africa is portrayed. How would you explain the social behavior growing up in South African as a white woman?

NB: This is a huge question, but it is a good one. Growing up as a white person, male or female, it was crazy. I finished high school during the last year before Nelson Mandela came out of prison and the system changed. I went to a white-only school. We did not learn about any history in South African that had to do with the Apartheid. We had a very one-sided curriculum. The following year everything changed. I went to a university that was very progressive and openminded. The people that I met there helped me to really wake up.

It was a beautiful time when Nelson Mandela was released from prison – the people fighting for him and for change – we had so much hope. Talking about the time of the rainbow nation. Nelson Mandela developed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which went on to be used throughout the world. This was all happening while I was at university. I felt so privileged and a blessing to see this happening.

The Truth and Reconciliation commission was essentially: let’s talk about it and let’s not fight about it. The perpetrators and victims were brought together in a court. They were invited to express their pain. As the perpetrator of a crime, if you told the truth, you were given amnesty. A very progressive concept. The healing that comes out of it this is so much more rich and helpful than being judged and incarcerated. For both victim and perpetrator. Because you can look each other in the eye, express your grief and see how flawed we are as human beings. People need healing. They need to say “I am so sorry. I did this because I was instructed to do so by the government.” Or give the reason and motivation for their crime and their deep regret.  The people on the other side are given the chance to express their trauma and say, “I need you to know how much you have hurt my family with the violence that was brought upon us.”  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission trailed around South Africa for three years listening to the pain caused by the Apartheid government. It was broadcast live on TV.  Witnessing it completely changed me and healed many thousands of people and a large part of the psyche of a very damaged South Africa. It was revolutionary and the reason SA did not break into a civil war.

How does this apply to my career as an actor? Well, I have witnessed so much. I have seen people change completely. So, I am very aware that it is possible to be any character you choose as long as you believe and give that person a back story. Why are they like this? What happened in their life to make them like this? Actors are very accepting of people’s any traits.  We are the ones that are fearless of ‘the other’. We are always putting on each other’s skin and trying on someone’s character.

We always need a recipe to create something new and life-changing. I was on this show, Isisdingo (The Need) and the movie, District 9. Isidingo, is one of the longest-running daily dramas in South Africa. It showed the first interracial kiss or relationship. This was huge. It was so cool to be a part of this. You portray something and people see it is possible. This creates change. In District 9, it was this brilliant commentary on the ‘aliens’, the victors to Earth, that were treated so badly, and it was shot in these refugee camps. So, this was a very smart commentary on, not only what had happened politically in South Africa, but also on how refugees are treated globally. It was a privilege to be part of these stories – there is nothing better than to know you are a part of the change of a terrible system that turned into a better system. This is my experience.

Even in New Zealand, I learned about the anti-anti-apartheid movement – information I hadn’t heard while living in SA because the censorship of the news. When I lived in NZ, I learned about how the 1981 Springbok tour was boycotted in New Zealand. Many people believed, quite rightly, that the South African rugby team would not be allowed to tour, as people of colour were not allowed to join the national team.

It was fascinating to see how New Zealand influenced the change of power in South Africa. And the whole debacle was played on the radio in South Africa and Nelson Mandela got to hear about the rugby boycott in New Zealand from his cell on Robben Island.

ATM: There are some things society feeds people that are not true. They so long have wanted to keep us divided. You grow up thinking this race is better or this gender is that way. A lot of what is taught in education today and from the beginning of time is not true. When you go to the source, you realize the lies that society embeds in your head through tests, quizzes, and etc.

NB: Exactly. We have a lot of work to do to open minds and undo the damage of racism and bigotry. For example, the terrible attack on Jussie Smollett. There have been some posts from the Riverdale cast on how we really stand by him. Riverdale is very gender balanced and LGBTQA proud, so I am very happy to be part of that. This also goes for our sister show Sabrina. It is something to be proud of that we do not stand by any of the hate that is going on in the world. We want to be a part of the people who speak out about these things. All of us stand for something positive on the show.

ATM: How was your race and gender in New Zealand assessed once moving there?

NB: Contemporary NZ is predominantly European. So, going from that background, there was nothing unusual about me, when I moved there. Maori is the indigenous culture there, along with an interesting mix of Pacific Island culture, Indian, Asian and so on. I was hoping to be speaking influent in Maori within the ten years living here, but sadly, even though there is now a lot of Te Reo/ Maori taught in the school curriculum now, I didn’t pick it up in my day to day.  It did not happen. It was when I moved around a bit and got involved with some of the T.V shows where I got to mix more, culturally. New Zealand has some historical issues in terms of race relations, but not the same scale as South Africa. I really enjoy being around the Maori friends I made, and getting to learn more about their culture, which is fascinating and proud and very musical and artistic. I was once told I have ‘mana’ after I performed in a series about the part the Maori soldiers played in the Gallipoli war. ‘Mana’ means grace and dignity. I was so moved by this. The Maori culture is based on mana. So, this was very meaningful to me.  

Thank you for your interesting questions. Not a lot of people have gone there with me. I am always open to discussing my background, and cultures.