From the opening moments of $o$, Die Antwoord’s debut album from 2009, listeners were hooked by the group’s over-the-top sounds and visuals. While Die Antwoord videos are ostensibly commercials for their singles, they also offer a glimpse into the pure insanity of South African Zef culture. Even though Yolandi and Ninja, the former couple who make up the group, have deliberately shown audiences their "zefness," no one has captured the raw energy of the group like director Harmony Korine.
Korine, who’s famous for films like Spring Breakers and Gummo, filmed a 15-minute Die Antwoord movie that’s unsettling, strange, and oddly human. The short follows the couple as they dream of becoming hip hop stars. They sleep in the woods, ride around in wheelchairs, and commit illicit acts, all the while clad in brightly colored onesies. The film Umshini Wam (Bring Me The Machine Gun) is an absurd look into zef culture, but the story behind is just as crazy.
Inspiration comes from many places. David Lynch spent years drinking milkshakes at Bob's Big Boy to dream up some of his more fantastic films, and Martin Scorsese finds inspiration in other films. Harmony Korine found inspiration from a set of holographic car rims. While he was browsing a website looking to purchase specialized car rims with spinning dollar bill signs for his own car, he found holographic rims instead. He was infatuated with the idea of rims that lit up at night.
One idea led to the next; Korine began to think about what it would be like to have wheelchairs that lit up, then characters who would ride wheelchairs with holographic rims. A story began to develop on its own, and he knew Die Antwoord were the perfect people for his short. "They were exactly who would be riding in a wheelchair with rims," Korine told Vice.
Aside from showing off their South African zef sensibilities, Umshini Wam presents its two stars as having genuine affection for one another. It's no secret that Ninja and Yolandi were in a relationship at one point and that they even have a child together, but that relationship tends to be left out of their overall presentation and stage personas.
While speaking with Vice, Ninja claimed Harmony Korine forced him and Yolandi to show tenderness to one another on camera. "I had to force them to do it," Korine said in response. "They were very apprehensive at first, but then they realized it was the right thing to do and they just went for it."
While the short is set in South Africa, it was filmed near Korine's home in Nashville, Tennessee. Multiple scenes in the movie show Ninja and Yolandi brandishing side arms (an Uzi and "a Glock with an extended neck"), and while you might think it would freak out the locals to see two tatted up zef maniacs firing rounds in a river bed and in front of a restaurant, Korine said people were cool with it:
Everyone [in Nashville] was really accommodating. Ninja and Yolandi would walk around with those Uzis and everyone was really relaxed about it for some reason. Maybe because everyone here has [side arms].
In the dual worlds of Die Antwoord and Harmony Korine, nothing is as it seems. While presenting the short film via pre-recorded video, Korine claimed that the short took years to make and that production took them all around the world. The director told audiences:
We made this movie across 15 continents and over a couple of years and a few million dollars and in the end it was all worth it. I won’t give away too much other than to say I’m really excited you’re there, I wish I was there, I hope you enjoy this and I’ll talk to you very, very soon.