Gangsters’ Paradise: The Representation of Johannesburg in Film and Television

By Alexandra Parker.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Gangsters and crime feature strongly as themes of Johannesburg’s film and television. This paper traces the path of these themes, and discusses the images within the context of Johannesburg’s history.
Johannesburg has been the site of urban migration since the discovery of gold in 1886 and the city continues to be the object of many dreams and aspirations for South Africans and Africans alike. But the city also plays host to a shadowy underworld of crime and is referred to as ‘gangsters’ paradise’. This underworld has become a familiar feature in themes and genres of films and television shows set in the city of Johannesburg.
Representations of the city coincide with these themes of crime as the gritty images of Johannesburg form an important backdrop to the narratives. Johannesburg has captured the imaginations of filmmakers and audiences, and the city hosts a large proportion of both film production companies and a large share of the country’s cinema audience. Subsequently, images of the city are prolific in films and in television. However, crime as a theme is handled differently within the different mediums. This paper explores these images and themes from their origins in the 1940s to 21st century films such as ‘Jerusalema’ and places the discussion within the greater context of the history of Johannesburg and the history of films and television.

Keywords: Johannesburg, Film, Television, Crime, Genre, City Representation

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.167-178. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 940.676KB).

Alexandra Parker

PhD Student, Development Planning and Modelling, School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

Alexandra Parker is a PhD student at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, researching the role of film and television in shaping urban representation and practice in the city of Johannesburg. She also works for the Architects’ Collective organizing, among other events, the Architect Africa Film Festival. She completed her Master of Architecture dissertation, titled “The Effects of Walls in the Suburbs of Johannesburg” in 2008 at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her research interests include film and architecture and architectural heritage as well as the cultural promotion of architecture.