Sarafina! is the screen adaptation of Mbongeni Ngema's internationally successful stage show, an emotional musical salute to the black South African schoolchildren's resistance movement that sparked in the 70s. One may be reasonably certain that the film, made in Soweto, never would have been made without Whoopi Goldberg on board, and she fulfils her brief nicely as Mary, the passionate history teacher who instils pride, hope and political awareness in her township students.
The central role, however, is taken by vibrantly pretty Leleti Khumalo reprising her Broadway performance as Sarafina, the schoolgirl whose rite of passage to womanhood is a harrowing ordeal of mob violence, murder, participation in a frenzied mob's reprisal killing, imprisonment and torture.
En route, Sarafina and schoolmates burst into Ngema's snappy freedom anthems and hymns or Hugh Masakela's poppier additions to the score, turning even a tearful funeral for a group of children who have been gunned down like dogs in the dirt of the schoolyard into a dance number.
If one is prepared to forgive it its large measure of amateurishness and naivety, and is braced for the distress inherent in the subject matter, this can be cautiously recommended as a vivid testament to the unacceptable circumstances in which too many children grow up.
At times clumsy, rough and unsophisticated in its interspersing of musical numbers with raw scenes of violence and brutality, it is, on occasion, undeniably moving.