In While You Weren’t Looking on Showmax, director Catherine Stewart examines the struggles experienced by lesbians living in suburban South Africa compared to those living in townships.
The film was shot on locations in and around Cape Town over 24 days and is an Out In Africa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival production.
Following a cast of lesbian characters who work their way through life’s hardships while trying to remain true to themselves, While You Weren’t Looking shows a society that would rather have them ditch their lesbianism and be more like “normal” cis-women to fit in.
Sheltered in the suburbs
Middle-aged lesbian couple Teri and Dez live in one of the most affluent suburbs in Cape Town with their adopted daughter, Asanda, who is of mixed-race.
While Teri and Dezi are raising their daughter in a loving home, like any other couple, they’re facing their own challenges, including infidelity and the struggles of power dynamics. In particular, Dez is blinded by her alpha-woman persona, so much so that she does not realise her marriage is in trouble.
Surviving in the townships
During a night out, Asanda meets lesbian-stud Shado played by Thishiwe Ziqubu. Charmed by Shado’s androgynous look, Asanda develops her first lesbian crush.
Asanda invites Shado to her home in the affluent suburbs. It’s obvious from the start that Shado is not welcome in the house when the domestic worker is hostile, questioning what she’s doing in this part of town. Which is ironic, considering that the domestic worker hails from the same township as Shado does.
Asanda’s first-time experience in a township makes her realise that she’s not “black enough”, according to Shado’s friends.
The experience opens her eyes to the hardships of lesbians who live in the townships and the many dangers they face because of their sexuality.
While You Weren’t Looking made the official selection for the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in 2015 and also won a Pink Apple Audience Award for Best Feature Film in the same year.
If you’re interested in understanding the life of the queer community, watching While You Weren’t Looking on Showmax is a great start.