Fired manager's gorilla warfare ends after 8 years
Industrial Development Corporation prevails over staffer who misled it about albino ape movie
A script for a movie called Vanilla Gorilla was racist about Africa but the Industrial Development Corporation provisionally agreed to invest R189-million in producing it, a court in Johannesburg has heard.
The IDC pulled the plug after discovering that a manager who recommended the investment had not disclosed the National Film and Video Foundation’s damning comments and had misled it in other ways. Then it fired the manager, Tracey Roscher.
Roscher’s eight-year fight to get her job back ended last month at the Labour Appeal Court, which said she was guilty of “at the very least, a grossly negligent and misleading breach of fiduciary duty”.
The 46-year-old, who was a R700,000-a-year manager in the IDC media and motion picture unit, convinced the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration she had been unfairly dismissed.
But the IDC won its appeal before the Labour Court and has now prevailed again, with the appeal court saying Roscher’s conduct “fell way below par and severely damaged trust to the point that a continued employment relationship became intolerable”.James Bond star Pierce Brosnan was about to get on a plane to Durban in 2008 when he learnt that funding had collapsed for Vanilla Gorilla, the film he was due to shoot there.
This was because the IDC had learnt that the script about an albino ape being returned to the wild in Rwanda was racist and patronising, and that Roscher had misled it about a commitment from Walmart in the US to buy 1.2 million DVD copies for R209-million.Vanilla Gorilla, with a budget of R460m, was to be the story of Gogo, the world’s only albino gorilla, which embarks on a “wild adventure” across Africa with a New York girl called Nikki.
MacCarthy signed Brosnan to play Nikki’s father. US actor Dennis Haysbert was named to play Gogo’s keeper, and Peter Elliott (star primate mimic from Gorillas in the Mist and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes) agreed to wear the R6.5m gorilla costume made for the movie.
“We were a week or two away from starting to shoot then the hurricane of the 2008 world financial crash happened and we lost our major backer in the US,” producer Michael MacCarthy told Times Select.
He approached the IDC and Roscher stepped in. But in last month’s court ruling, acting appeal judge John Murphy said she did not disclose NFVF advice, which said: “[The film] probably will not do well on SA screens because of its obviously patronising characterisation of Africa.
“It says Africans need a rich little white girl to come and teach them about the true values of nature conservation and love of animals.
“It is very hard to think of ways to make this story less patronising and racist given the point of departure for these writers.”
Roscher only told the IDC committee evaluating the funding request: “The NFVF ... view the script as average.”The whistle was blown by IDC lawyer Prosper Chavarika, who accompanied Roscher to the US when she went to meet Walmart executives.
Chavarika told Roscher’s boss, Basil Ford, that Walmart’s expression of interest was “worth very little”.
MacCarthy appeared as a character witness at Roscher’s CCMA hearing, and told Times Select after the Labour Court case he had “the highest regard for her personally and professionally”.
The NFVF’s comments about the script were “codswallop”, he said. “We were in conversation with black actors of great stature, like Danny Glover, who would have voiced their concerns.”
The comments could only have been made out of “absolute ignorance”, said Gardner. “The film is as nonracist as you can get. One of the heroes is a black man.”