The most remarkable moment at this year’s Oscar® ceremony may have been the interrupted acceptance speech that was heard around the world. But the 21-year-old woman whose life inspired the film that won the Best Documentary (Short Subject) award is far more remarkable still.
Prudence Mabhena, who suffers from a rare disorder that has deformed her joints and confined her to a wheelchair, found a new life when she found her voice, and joined with seven other disabled musicians to gain social acceptance in Zimbabwe, where physical disabilities are routinely viewed as a curse. MUSIC BY PRUDENCE, featuring music by Prudence and the Liyana band, tells her joyous and affecting story when it debuts WEDNESDAY, MAY 12 (8:00-8:45 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO2.
Other HBO2 playdates: May 20 (8:45 a.m.) and 24 (7:45 p.m.)
Born with arthrogryposis, a rare disorder that affects the joints, Prudence Mabhena suffered unspeakable cruelty in her native Zimbabwe, where disabled babies are commonly believed to be the result of witchcraft and often neglected or disowned. Her arms twisted and legs nonexistent, she was abandoned by her parents and raised by her maternal grandmother. As a child, Prudence was unable to perform the simplest tasks by herself, so her grandmother strapped her to her back and took her into the fields as she worked, always singing to her.
At age seven, Prudence was sent to live with her father and his new wife in the hope she would be educated. Instead, her stepmother ignored and abused her, driving the child to attempt suicide twice. At nine, she entered the King George VI School and Centre for Children with Disabilities (known as KG6), depressed and without much hope for her future.
When school officials encouraged her to try out for the choir, she astonished them with a clear, soaring voice that miraculously transcended her circumstances. Within a week, Prudence was leading the choir. Soon she was singing, writing and composing music for Liyana, an Afro-fusion musical group she founded with seven classmates who have disabilities ranging from muscular dystrophy to hemophilia. Liyana means “it’s raining” in Ndebele, the language of an agricultural society that views rain as a blessing from God.
In MUSIC BY PRUDENCE she courageously shares her often poignant and always inspiring story in her own words. Charismatic, irreverent and independent, Prudence found the loving, supportive family she always sought in Liyana, and is now a respected teacher at KG6, not only of music but also, amazingly, of dance. Besides performing throughout Zimbabwe in English, Spanish, French, Ndebele and Shona, Prudence and Liyana have visited Sweden and hope to take their music all over the world.
The filmmakers spent five and a half months in Zimbabwe with Prudence and the other members of Liyana — Farai Mabhande, Energy Maburutse, Marvelous Mbulo, Honest Mupatse, Tapiwa Nyengera, Goodwell Nzou and Vusani Vuma — capturing public and private moments. Weaving together intimate interviews with Prudence, friendly bantering among band members and life-affirming concert footage, MUSIC BY PRUDENCE is a moving tribute to the courage and determination that art and music can inspire.
The soundtrack for MUSIC BY PRUDENCE will be released digitally by Mi5/EMI on May 7.
MUSIC BY PRUDENCE is directed and produced by Roger Ross Williams; produced by Elinor Burkett; director of photography, Derek Wiesehahn; camera, Errol Webber Jr.; editor, Geeta Gandbhir; co-producer and associate editor, Patrick Wright; music produced by Ted Mason. For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.