Malik Bendjelloul’s 2012 Academy Award winning documentary about the South African love of the beyond obscure early 70s American songwriter Rodriguez is certainly a feel-good documentary. Rodriguez produced 2 albums in Detroit and was done by 1973. He received no popular success and ended up working as a laborer and raising his kids for the rest of the next 25 years. Unbeknownst to him, white rebellious South Africans found his records and it spread like wildfire through that isolated country. He became a hero on the level of The Beatles, or so the documentary claims. Of course he has no idea and the South Africans know nothing about him. After the end of apartheid, they track him down in Detroit and bring him to South Africa for a serious of enormously popular concerts. He still worked as a laborer, giving away the money he made from his South African tours (he is quite the space cadet really).
And that’s about all. What the film barely states but what is obvious from the concert footage is that Rodriguez was popular almost strictly with white South Africans, and in fact while apartheid is a major theme in the film, black people are not. This is a real white South Africa. Again, it’s a feel good documentary but doesn’t challenge or investigate much of anything. It follows his popularity, the search to find him, his reaction, and his South African tour. It’s the kind of documentary that wins the Oscar because it’s totally nonpolitical. Unfortunately, it’s also not all that revealing about the music either. OK, but overrated.