In Valley of a Thousand Hills, there are two objects of focus as highlighted by the creators—the time-value of emotions and how lesbianism is still considered a demonic disease…
By Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo
The breathtaking Valley of a Thousand Hills is an exciting component of Durban and the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, the Kingdom of the Zulu. Hence, Bonnie Sithebe’s romantic drama of the same title is an LGBTQ+ movie. It shows the struggles faced by the transitioning queer community. The film introduces two women whose feelings for each other are valid but opposed by their immediate family. The film stars Sibongokuhle Nkosi (Durban Gen), Mandisa Vilakazi (Erased Tiny), Wiseman Mncube, and Glen Gabela, alongside other cast members.
Valley of a Thousand Hills follows a young woman, Nosipho, who comes from a conservative community and is the chief’s daughter. She is to marry the man chosen by her father. In fear of her double life being the end of her father, she hides her relationship with the woman she loves, and instead decides to run away with her secret lover, Thenjiwe. The twist of events is that Nosipho is given to Vika, who happens to be Thenjiwe’s brother. After telling her father her lack of interest in the marriage, his persistence pushes her to suggest running away. So in love, Thenjiwe is ready to leave everything behind—family, property—to follow her heart.
The events are neither too airtight nor predictable. But for a sucker for romance, this storyline follows a linear map as several love stories have gone wrong, like the 1931 Romcom, The Royal Bed, featuring Mary Astor. Luckily, the movie is not so predictable and gives the cast a chance to express emotions like hurt, love, heartbreak, and forgiveness.
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The character of the protagonist, Nosipho, may have said the right things but with the wrong expression. At many points in the movie, we hear strong words that deplete a certain depth of emotion. Disappointingly, these words are followed by sluggish and weak expressions, body language, and theatrical delivery. On the other hand, the character of Thenjiwe is aptly represented. As her character deserves, Sibongokuhle serves undiluted emotions as well as an applaudable reaction to the events her character finds herself in. Thenjiwe is a hopeless romantic who is ready to go all out in the name of love. However, she is caught in the love web of an indecisive partner. This puts her on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the movie’s running time.
While the boldness of queer couples is praised, this movie highlights most of what happens behind the scenes: societal pressures, cultural beliefs, and the assumptions that their sexual orientation is subject to demonic possession (Thenjiwe is sent to a spiritual home to get cleansed of these “demons”).
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In Valley of a Thousand Hills, there are two objects of focus as highlighted by the creators—the time-value of emotions and how lesbianism is still considered a demonic disease. Nosipho does love Thenjiwe. However, she’s unsure of her path, and in the process of her sanctimonious journey of self-discovery, she hurts everyone that loves her. Also, while Thenjiwe’s mother may be seen now as unsupportive, we try to recall that a few years ago, even we, the “woke” generation, did see the queer community as abnormal. In my six years of being in a Nigerian boarding school, I encountered lesbians firsthand. While I knew nothing was physically, mentally, or spiritually wrong with them, regrettably, I disinclined myself from them to avoid being stereotyped and seen as what I am not. A few years later, my thoughts changed as my mindset evolved.
The movie is likely an activist piece in favour of the queer community and well-timed, seeing that we are in October—believed to be the LGBTQA+ history month. In a bid to justify Thenjiwe as a victim in the film, her mother’s refusal to accept her daughter as gay is painted as being insensitive, and this puts the spiritual healer, Gobela, in the light of being more sensitive and understanding as she offers Thenjiwe a place to live. The healer and Thenjiwe’s father are the only pillars of support Thenjiwe has.
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Not to forget, Nosipho’s phlegmatic aunt, Kitty, is the most emotionally conscious and warmest person on the screen. Kitty is a victim of an arranged marriage that did not totally favour her, hence why she stood against her brother’s wish to give her niece out. While upset at her brother’s actions, and while her brother gives terrible reviews of her cooking skills, they put their differences aside to make their relationship work when Nosipho moves to her new husband’s house.
At first, the film struggles to keep viewers interested, but progress is seen when the story climaxes and stays consistent. The movie tries to justify Nosipho’s indecisiveness as induced by fear and societal stigmatisation. However, for someone who the movie revolves around, we barely know enough about Nosipho to understand her choices and actions. Her loyalty faces questioning, as she seems to quickly take the easy way out of situations, regardless of who gets hurt. Besides her inability to express emotions, Nosipho is an emotional wreck who drags Thenjiwe through her dreadful life. She is the master planner of events and the first to bail when things turn sour. First, she leaves Thenjiwe sitting at the park to elope with her while she stays home getting married. Again, she seduces Thenjiwe on her wedding night after her husband returns home drunk, but is quick to deny her feelings for Thenjiwe when caught in bed the morning after. With no justification for her actions, I believe Nosipho deserves way less empathy for the victim act she puts out.
The most exciting point for me is the director’s cast management. The movie is neither crowded nor deserted. It has just the adequate number of actors needed for the production. While the film does well in executing its subplots, the last scenes are distorted and would totally lose a distracted audience. The movie is another “love conquers all” type of movie, with an ending like a Romeo and Juliet wannabe.
In Valley of a Thousand Hills, we only see tradition celebrating Nosipho’s coming of age; we never get to see her just being young and dangerous. Still, it gives a good representation of the queer community—the experimentation, the struggle of coming out, and the societal stigmatisation. The film is a decent watch, and if you are not impressed with the story, you will love the view of the hills.
(Watch Valley of a Thousand Hills on Netflix)
Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo, a film critic, beautician, and accountant, currently writes from Lagos State, Nigeria. Feel free to drop your opinion in the comment session below, and connect with her on Twitter @Glowup_by_bee.