Boys also have babies!


Boys also have babies! Tiynane & baby on his back

Yellow Card puts the focus on young men

The youth of Africa are the most vulnerable in the world. About one-third of the world's HIV-infected persons are between the ages of 15 and 24 and live in Africa.

A half of all births to African women under the age of 20 are unintended.

Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for 60 percent of new HIV infection each year throughout the world.

The statistics for African youth are stark. Africa's HIV infection and unwanted teenage pregnancies are graphic pointers to an array of problems affecting adolescents, and it is young women who have borne the brunt of these problems.

When Media For Development (MFD) first tackled the issue of teenage pregnancy on film, the spotlight came to rest on 'Rita', a young school girl whose life is almost ruined when she falls pregnant. Rita was the victimised star of Consequences, a 55 minute film that summed up a young woman's unwanted baby. To date, it ihas been seen by millions across Africa, in seven different languages.

Yvette Ogiste was a young-looking unversity student when she played the 15 year old Rita, she remembers that it was a realistic portrayal of a young girl forced to accept early motherhood. So, her return to the screen in Yellow Card twelve years later as a grown-up Rita, teaching at the same school she had been expelled from, was going to be interesting.

"It helped to be older, to approach it in a different way," said Yvette (now Ogiste-Muchenje) "I liked playing Rita because of the way she had developed. She had grown wiser and stronger."

For Yvette, the story had taken "an interesting twist." Her screen character was now a teacher trying to advise a teenage boy facing fatherhood. "Normally, it's the girl who ends up with the baby but this was progressive. I think it will make the guys who see this very uncomfortable - and that is good. The film is saying: Look, it's time you took responsibility!"

Yellow Card takes the seismic issues of sexual health - early child bearing, unsafe sex, unsafe abortion, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, HIV transmission - and then turns the focus onto a teenage boy about to become a man in a largely patriarchal society.

Rita's role in Yellow Card was to ask the young Tiyane simple, searching questions. Was he the father? Was he responsible? How would he cope? What would he do - with a girl he might not love? How would he deal with the fact of fatherhood?

Said Yvette: "I loved Rita's development. She provoked the young guy (Tiyane) but she was not the stuffy school marm. She's still useful and identifies with kids. She's mature but she doesn't let age create a gap."

The dramatic and devastating onset of AIDS has moved the argument onto men. What are they doing about sexual health?

Where Consequences was the story of schoolgirl Rita coming to terms with having a baby, Yellow Card underlines emphatically that Tiyane, the teenage hero, cannot walk away from his responsibilities.

Pathfinder's regional Vice President, Elizabeth Lule, who has been primarily responsible for drumming up funding for the boy story, stressed the point: "Gender-based inequalities persist. Girls frequently do not reach their potential and boys have a false sense of power and domination."

It is this "false sense of power", or Tiyane's refusal and fear of facing up to the fact that he may be a father, which drives the story of Yellow Card. Director John Riber and his co-writer Andrew Whaley deliberately pushed the story to its logical end where the hero Tiyane literally has his baby in his arms.

Said Riber: "Traditionally, these reproductive health issues have been a woman's problem. They carry the baby and bear the burden. We have not taken the traditional approach. Instead, we are talking to young men about their role in child-bearing. There are a lot of surprises in this film like in life."

The point Riber wanted to make was that there are "no prescriptions" to matters of sex, whether it is about AIDS or pregnancy or whatever. "Like life, there are no easy answers," Riber said. There are no ready-made solutions to these compelling issues. The film does not lecture young kids, rather we are just trying to give them something to think about."

Riber argues that arming young people with knowledge and awareness, provoking them to think, is their best defence. As one of Yellow Card's key researchers, the late Beavan Mutsakani said: " Don't tell them what to do, provoke them into finding answers for themselves."

In this sense, Yellow Card directly confronts young males about the impact of sex and sexuality. The film specifically "promotes young male involvement" in these issues, as Elizabeth Lule has pointed out.

Actor Leroy Gopal plays the lead character, Tiyane, as a flesh-and-blood hero who is "afraid to face up to his responsibilities," Tiyane does not have all the answers, Leroy says.

John Riber agrees: " You can like or dislike Tiyane for the things he does or does not do. But you can't ignore him. You've got to respond to his actions."

Riber, as producer, director and co-writer, wanted to make a film that got the message across without being preachy and heavy-handed about issues like HIV infection. In the film, Tiyane's friend, Skido, is the one who succumbs to the virus. It happens almost as an aside.

Said Riber: "You can't say enough about HIV in one way, but the way we present it hits the nail on the head because we don't dwell on it."

Skido's character in the film is funny and appealing. He is, Riber said, "randy and amusing - yet he's the victim. The point that is made is: you don't get AIDS because of who you are. It isn't because you're a bad guy. It isn't because you are doing something that's wrong. It's more likely because you haven't been provoked into thinking about what it really means".