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Zimbabwean Documentary Wins an Oscar

Published on Tuesday 9th March 2010 Zimbabwean Documentary Wins an Oscar

Music by Prudence', an inspiring documentary about a group of handicapped Zimbabwean musicians, scooped the best prize for a short documentary at the 2010 Academy Awards held in Los Angeles, on Sunday night.

The documentary is about singer-songwriter Prudence Mabhena and her marimba group Liyana, who offer messages of hope through their music, despite being neglected by family members, discrimination and living in poverty.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper wrote: "She suffers from arthrogryposis, a condition that deforms joints and cost her both her legs. But all the band members survived brutal or apathetic treatment at the hands of parents and/or siblings who regarded them as stains on the family's reputation or drags on the family's fortune."

A website on the film said at one point Mabhena went to stay with her father and his new family, when she was deserted by her mother and her grandmother couldn't look after her anymore: "There, Prudence fell prey to neglect and isolation. Her stepmother refused to touch her, and called her a worthless, helpless "ant." For two years, Prudence lived like an animal -crawling on the floor and sleeping in her own urine, and worse. Every day, she dragged herself to a mango tree in the backyard, and told herself that her nightmare will end someday. She was despondent enough to attempt suicide, twice."

The documentary traces her path, which changed from a world of 'hatred and superstition into one of music, love, and possibility'.

The situation changed for the budding musician when she went to stay at a rehabilitation institution in Bulawayo called the King George VI School & Centre for Children with Physical Disabilities. This is where she met her co-musicians and formed the marimba band Liyana (It's Raining).

In his acceptance speech on Oscar night, the film's producer-director Roger Ross Williams said: "This is amazing. Two years ago when I got on an airplane and went to Zimbabwe, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I'd end up here. This is so exciting. This is so exciting. So exciting...."

But the director's speech was short-lived when producer Elinor Burkett went on stage and took the microphone away from Williams and shouted: "Let the woman talk. Isn't that the classic thing?"

She went on to say: "In a world in which most of us are told and tell ourselves that we can't, Liyana, the band behind this film, teaches us that we're wrong. Against all odds they did, so we can. So the bottom line is, to me, my role models and my heroes, Marvelous and Energy, Tapiwa, Goodwell, the whole rest of the band and especially Prudence..."

Williams interrupted her to say: "...And Prudence who is here, who is back there. Prudence is here tonight. This is for Prudence."

It turns out that the public feud by the two filmmakers was a result of differences over the direction of the film. But Prudence was shown beaming in the audience, in spite of the drama that was unfolding onstage.

The pressure group Sokwanele said: "The amazing thing about this band is its ability to get the audience to forget the disability and see only the entertainment."

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