NOTE: AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS REVIEW APPEARED IN THE CITIZEN
Ultimately, if Khuli did not have his celebrity status and the means to get himself the right lawyers, he would not have ever gotten justice.
“Bad things happen all the time, yo. You just have to pick up the pieces,” are the first words spoken in the new documentary film detailing the night that would go on to define one of SA’s most talented hip-hop artists.
The film, directed by Monde Sibisi, is a screengrab of 2013, the year in which hip-hop superstar Khuli Chana’s life and career were changed and almost ended.
It opens on a high, showing what is essentially a highlight reel of Khuli’s peak. He was the biggest rapper in the country at the time and he and his life partner Andisa Maku had just had their first child, Nia.
Things were looking up: he had just released his sophomore album, Lost in Time and was riding the wave of hit singles, major awards and, at one point, was doing up to 20 gigs a month.
It was while driving to one of these gigs in December 2013 that the South African Police Service bungled a sting operation and fired nine shots at the Motswakoriginator’s BMW 1 Series after mistaking him for a kidnapper they had planned to pounce on.
This is the inciting incident of the film. What follows is the whirlwind of emotions the rapper had to weather as feelings of self-doubt, fear and paranoia took a hold of his life and how that affected those around him.
As much as the film juxtaposes the highest and lowest points of the 33-year-old rapper’s life, it also highlights in its narrative the issue of police brutality and the media coverage thereof in South Africa.
Online headlines and news clips are interspersed with talking-head interviews with the people closest to Khuli and the incident, including family, friends, lawyers and even eNCA’s Karyn Maughn. And the message sent is clear: South Africa has a police problem.
Picking up the Pieces also speaks on the social and financial class and how those two visible intangibles relate to who gets justice and who doesn’t in South Africa. As Maughan points out, if Khuli did not have his celebrity status and the means to get himself the right lawyers, he would not have ever gotten justice.
Although it plays like a very long EPK, Picking up the Pieces is ultimately a story of hope and how a man on top of the world was shot down but managed to emerge victorious from the gunsmoke.