Positive and Homeless but Filmmaker Won't Give Up on His Dream
BY Sunnivie Brydum
April 28 2014 4:00 AM ET
N. Mabasa-Mathope is a fan of fantastic stories. While he was pursuing his undergraduate degree in filmmaking at schools in his native South Africa and in the United States, one of Mabasa’s professors challenged his students to imagine a “what if” scenario to inspire a screenplay.
Mabasa, an HIV-positive immigrant who is currently homeless after a multiyear battle with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, didn’t have much trouble conjuring an idea that he thought was utterly fantastic: What if a man became pregnant?
At the time, Mabasa, who identifies as a gay man, wasn’t aware that history contains several instances where men have given birth. In most of those instances, especially those best publicized in American media, the men who gave birth were transgender, meaning they were assigned female at birth, but identified and lived as men. As Mabasa began to build the “meat and bones” of his screenplay, he spoke with doctors who educated him about intersex people—those born with ambiguous genitalia or genes, who can, in some cases, have both male and female reproductive organs.
“At first I thought it was kind of a genius idea, of what if a man got pregnant?” Mabasa recalls. “But it wasn’t a genius idea [because doctors told me it has happened]. So I wanted to approach it from a reality standpoint, because there have been a couple movies made where a man was pregnant, but it was a comedy standpoint, like slapstick comedy. So I’m approaching it from a different angle, where it really could happen.”
In his own life, Mabasa is no stranger to far-fetched experiences. He doesn’t know exactly when or where he was born, but he was raised all over South Africa. After studying computer science in South Africa, he received a scholarship to study at the New York Film Academy, which brought him to the United States for the first time in December 1998. But the New York winter proved too harsh a climate change from South Africa’s summer, and Mabasa returned to Africa until he was placed in a film program at Santa Monica College, a community college near Los Angeles, in July 1999.
After Mabasa left Santa Monica College, he took filmmaking classes at the Academy of Entertainment and Technology before returning to the New York Film Academy, via its Los Angeles campus. As his thesis graduating film at the academy in 2005, Mabasa produced a 15-minute movie that explored his earlier “what if” question on camera. The short, titled Boys Will Be Boys, has racked up more than half a million views on YouTube. It introduces viewers to Tyrone, a closeted bisexual black college basketball star with big dreams of making it to the NBA. A long-standing relationship that’s turned romantic with Tyrone’s best friend, Randy, gets more than a little complicated after Randy discovers that he’s intersex—and carrying Tyrone’s baby. The short film documents an explosive dinner where Tyrone tells his family the news and tries to manage prying questions from his conservative Christian mother, his father (who is just excited to become a grandfather), his siblings, and his cousins as well as his grandmother’s initial confusion (but ultimate acceptance).
After finishing his studies, like many new graduates with filmmaking degrees, Mabasa struggled to make ends meet and pay his bills. He took odd jobs delivering scripts to major film studios, and shooting independent shorts. But, he says, one of those short film gigs turned out to be a scam, and he was badly beaten and framed for a robbery he says he did not commit.