Whoopi Goldberg stars in this musical take on the South African struggles against Apartheid in the mid-1970s, during the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. An adaptation of Mbongeni Ngema's popular musical, which ran on Broadway from 1988 to 1989, Sarafina! recounts the political coming of age of the title character, a high school girl involved in the Soweto student protests of 1976. At first just a petulant bundle of energy, more interested in boys than civil rights, Sarafina (Leleti Khumalo) learns of the Afrikaaner oppression through the underground lectures of her teacher, Mary Masembuko (Goldberg). Sarafina's mother, who works as a servant in a white household and never sees her children, urges Sarafina to toe the line. But she can no longer turn a blind eye when the government imprisons her teacher and slaughters her would-be boyfriend during an arson protest. Incited to rebellion, the students kill a crooked black constable, leaving Sarafina to wrestle with their decision to use violence against the government's strictures. Ever tightening its grip, the ruling regime would kill 575 blacks over eight months in an attempt to quell the civil unrest. The sober subject matter is leavened by Ngema's jubilant songs and Michael Peters' electric choreography.
~ Derek Armstrong, All Movie Guide