A Dry White Season

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A Dry White Season
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Euzhan Palcy
Produced by Paula Weinstein
Tim Hampton
Mary Selway
Screenplay by Colin Welland
Euzhan Palcy
Based on A Dry White Season 
by Andre Brink
Starring Donald Sutherland
Janet Suzman
Jürgen Prochnow
Zakes Mokae
Susan Sarandon
Marlon Brando
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography Pierre-William Glenn
Kelvin Pike
Edited by Glenn Cunningham
Sam O'Steen
Davros Films
Sundance Productions
Distributed by MGM
Release dates
September 22, 1989
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million
Box office $3,766,879

A Dry White Season is a 1989 American drama-historical film directed by Euzhan Palcy and starring Donald Sutherland, Jürgen Prochnow, Marlon Brando, Janet Suzman, Zakes Mokae and Susan Sarandon. It was written by Colin Welland and Euzhan Palcy, based upon André Brink's novel of the same name. Robert Bolt also contributed uncredited revisions of the screenplay.[1] It is set in South Africa and deals with the subject of apartheid. Brando was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Plot synopsis[edit]

Plot synopsis[edit]

In 1976, in South Africa during apartheid, Ben Du Toit (Donald Sutherland) is a South African school teacher at a school for whites only. One day the son of his gardener, Gordon Ngubene (Winston Ntshona), gets beaten by the white police and gets caught by the police during a peacefully demonstration for a better education policy for blacks in South Africa. Gordon asks Ben for help. After Ben refuses to help because of his trust in the police Gordon gets caught by the police as well and is tortured. Against the will of his family Ben tries to find out more about the disappearance of his gardener by himself. Seeing the weakness and helplessness of the blacks he decides to bring this incident up before a court with Ian McKenzie (Marlon Brando) as lawyer, but loses. Afterwards he continues to act by himself and supports a small group of blacks who interview others to find out what happened to Gordon.

The white police notices their intentions and detains some responsible persons. Though they continue and (to increase their safety) hide the information at Ben's house. At this time Ben lets his son in on his plans. His son and his daughter both get to know the hiding spots, and after the police searched through Ben's house earlier there is an explosion next to the hiding spot, because the daughter betrayed it to the police. Though the son saved the documents. Then Gordon's wife, Emily (Thoko Ntshinga), and children are captured as well. Ben's wife and doughter leave. The daughter offers her father to get the documents to a safer place. They meet at a restaurant and Ben gives her the pretended documents, which she delivers to the police man. But instead of giving her the documents, Ben only gave her a book about art. At the end Ben is run over by the police man. The police man is shot by a black helper of Ben in revenge.



Before production, Warner Brothers passed on the project and it went to MGM.

Director Euzhan Palcy was so passionate about creating an accurate portrayal on film that she traveled to Soweto undercover, posing as a recording artist, to research the riots.[2] Actor Brando was so moved by Palcy's commitment to social change that he came out of a self-imposed retirement to play the role of the human rights lawyer; he also agreed to work for union scale ($4,000), far below his usual fee. The salaries of Sutherland and Sarandon were also reduced and the film was budgeted at only $9 million.[3]

The film was shot at Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, England and on location in Zimbabwe.


Dave Grusin composed the score that is mostly on the subtle side for the movie. There is no major theme here other than South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s mournful flugelhorn passages during the film’s saddest scenes. Kritzerland[4] released the soundtrack on CD, featuring 15 songs from the film’s soundtrack and four added "bonus tracks" (two alternate takes and two source cues). The CD of the soundtrack fails to mention contributing musicians, including Hugh Masekela, nor includes any of the three Ladysmith Black Mambazo songs (written by Joseph Tshabalala) used so prominently in the film.


The film was released at a time when South Africa was undergoing great political upheaval and regular demonstrations.[5] The film itself was initially banned by South African censors, who said it could harm President F.W. de Klerk's attempts at apartheid reform. The ban was later lifted in September 1989 and the movie was screened at the Weekly Mail Film Festival in Johannesburg.[6]

Brando's performance in the movie earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and he received the Best Actor Award at the Tokyo Film Festival. For her outstanding cinematic achievement, Palcy received the "Orson Welles Award" in Los Angeles.

Box office[edit]

A Dry White Season earned $3.8 million in the United States,[7][8] against a budget of $9 million.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 81% of 31 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.9 out of 10.[9] Brando, in his first film since 1980,[5] was particularly praised for his small but key role as human rights attorney Ian Mackenzie.

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert called A Dry White Season "an effective, emotional, angry, subtle movie."[5] The Washington Post's Rita Kempley wrote that "A Dry White Season is political cinema so deeply felt it attains a moral grace. A bitter medicine, a painful reminder, it grieves for South Africa as it recounts the atrocities of apartheid. Yes, it is a story already told on a grander scale, but never with such fervor."[10] And Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote that director Palcy, "a remarkable talent, has kept her undeniably powerful film ablaze with ferocity and feeling."[11]


  1. ^ A Dry White Season, Internet Movie Database. Accessed Apr. 18, 2011.
  2. ^ "Euzhan Palcy: The first black female director produced by a major Hollywood studio.". Experience Martinique. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Collins, Glenn. "A Black Director Views Apartheid," The New York Times (Sept. 25, 1989).
  4. ^ Kritzerland, Inc. "A Dry White Season - Dave Grusin". Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger. "A Dry White Season," Chicago Sun-Times (Sept. 22, 1989).
  6. ^ Kraft, Scott. "Dry White Season Jolts South African Audience". The Los Angeles Times (Sept. 29, 1989).
  7. ^ Cerone, Daniel (September 26, 1989). "Black Rain, 'Sea of Love' Tops at Box Office : WEEKEND BOX OFFICE". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  8. ^ A Dry White Season, Box Office Mojo. Accessed March 19, 2011.
  9. ^ "A Dry White Season (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  10. ^ Kempley, Rita. "A Dry White Season," Washington Post (Sept. 22, 1989).
  11. ^ Travers, Peter. "A Dry White Season," Rolling Stone (Sept. 20, 1989).

External links[edit]