This essay examines the public life of the South African film Mapantsula (1988), an overtly antiapartheid engagé film about a petty gangster in the context of the 1980s political unrest in South African townships, from the moment of the film's inception to the history of its circulation. The essay puts emphasis on critical public engagements of the film across a long range of time and varying contexts. It tracks the manner in which the film, produced in an antiapartheid context, continues to invite different kinds of engagement in a postrepressive regime era and proposes that only by considering film as a text that circulates over time can we fully appreciate its nature and status in the public sphere. Accumulating events in the past public life of the film add to the critical potency of the film in its later public life. The essay seeks to provide new ways in thinking about film and the public sphere in Africa in particular and the world in general.

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