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Local illustrators share their views on the latest Strong Black Lead content on Netflix

If you regularly flex your streaming muscle, you’ll know that Netflix is home to tons of great black content. Moreso, the platform brings the Strong Black Lead movement to life, both on and behind the screen.

Point in case are three recent releases: When They See Us, a four-part limited series from director Ava DuVernay that explores the criminal justice system through the true story of the Central Park Five; She’s Gotta Have It, a comedy-drama series created by Spike Lee following artist Nola Darling’s romantic life in gentrified Brooklyn; and Good Girls, a crime comedy-drama series, now in its second season, about three suburban moms who orchestrate a local grocery store heist to escape financial ruin.

Netflix South Africa partnered with three creatives from our shores, Karabo Poppy Moletsane, Delmaine Donson and Sinomonde Ngwane, to illustrate what these shows mean to them.

Through their creations, the local artists further highlighted the importance of being a Strong Black Lead – shedding light on the trials and tribulations of the strong, black South African female while at the same time highlighting the important work of the black creatives who brought us stories of inclusion and representation on Netflix.

These brilliant South African illustrators – our very own pioneers, who are speaking truth to the status quo, were shot by the Concept 254 team (who also shot for Global Citizen), sharing thought-provoking insights about being a Strong Black Lead as well as the hardships that women in South Africa face.

“I am a Strong Black Lead”

During the experience, Delmaine said: “Strong Black Lead, to me, means someone who can inspire change, someone who is strong enough to take the first step to create change and someone who is able to influence the minds of others while giving them a different perspective”.

Karabo said: “It means being able to pioneer and make things that are seen as unconventional the new normal.” She added that for her the term means “to achieve excellence, despite the push back and obstacles we as black people may encounter”.

Sinomonde said: “A Strong Black Lead is someone who is not afraid to challenge the status quo, someone who is strong, takes control of their life and is a great leader in their field.”

The creatives explained how the shows they illustrated for resonated with them, with Delmaine saying that Nola Darling, of She’s Gotta Have It, is her own person who is bold, who makes her own rules and doesn’t live under the laws of patriarchy. Delmaine thinks of herself in the same way.

Karabo, who illustrated for When They See Us, said that after 30 years we would think that progress made would be more substantial, however, she called out that we aren’t seeing a regression in progress, but rather a lack of moving forward. This resonated deeply with her in that she recognised that this lack of moving forward isn’t a third-world problem, but rather a global black problem.

Sinomonde said that Ruby, from Good Girls, resonated with her in that she entered a male-dominated industry and took on a role that is redefining, challenging and dominating, which inspired Sinomonde to have a little more Ruby in her.


Netflix starts production on first African original, Queen Sono

Netflix, the world’s leading internet entertainment service, has started production on its first original African series, Queen Sono, an action-packed spy thriller produced by Johannesburg-based Diprente.

Pearl Thusi stars in the title role as an unconventional spy working for an undercover South African agency devoted to protecting the people of Africa.

The series will include an all-local cast including Vuyo Dabula playing Shandu, an ex-spy who has taken a different path. Sechaba Morojele plays Dr Sid, director of the SOG, with Chi Mhende, Loyiso Madinga, and Rob Van Vuuren, playing agents on his team. Kate Liquorish plays Ekaterina, heiress of an oligarch family with ulterior motives. Khathu Ramabulana plays Queen’s childhood friend, William, now in a relationship with Enhle Maphumulo’s Nova. Abigail Kubekha plays Mazet, Queen’s beloved Gogo, who has always supported Queen – no matter the trouble she gets herself into.

Rounding out the talented supporting cast are Connie Chiume, Otto Nobela and James Ngcobo.

The six-part series is being produced by Diprente, the Johannesburg-based production company behind Catching Feelings and International Emmy nominated Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola. Showrunner and director Kagiso Lediga (named as one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People 2019) will be joined by director Tebogo Malope (Cannes Lions and SAFTA award winner), with both directing three episodes each. The team will be led by executive producer Tamsin Andersson.

The series is expected to launch globally in 2020.

Inside the making of South African Netflix Original series, Shadow


Last year, American entertainment streaming service, Netflix, announced that it will be investing in original African content. The year 2018 saw the release of its first African original series, Queen Sono, executive-produced by Kagiso Lediga (Catching Feelings, Matwetwe). On 8 March 2019, a second original South African series – the action-drama Shadow – was launched on the global streaming service.

“The African continent presents opportunities both for Netflix and filmmakers and we are actively searching for fresh differentiated stories from the African continent. We are committed to giving passionate local content creators a worldwide platform to share their vision, and offering consumers around the world unique and diverse stories they can discover and enjoy anywhere, anytime and at the same time. This is just the beginning of our investment in Africa,” said Netflix in a statement.

Shot in Johannesburg, Shadow is a proudly South African production, written by Gareth Crocker, and co-directed by Crocker and Fred Wolmarans. The eight-part action-drama series follows a crime-fighting, supernatural vigilante named Shadrach ‘Shadow’ Khumalo, played by rising South African star Pallance Dladla (Isibaya, Hard to Get). In addition to Dladla, the show’s cast includes Amanda Du-Pont, Khathu Ramabulana and Tumie Ngumla. The series is the latest production from Johannesburg-based independent film and television studio Motion Story.

Shadow is inspired by the sense of helplessness we all feel when faced with injustice in our lives. While we may not be able to defend the vulnerable or take on the criminals that plague our communities, Shadow can. He’s a kind of avatar for our primal brains. Someone unafraid to take action regardless of the consequences,” says Crocker.

The series follows Shadow, a former task force specialist and detective. Having been struck by lightning as a child, Shadow is now, as a result, resistant to physical pain. Initially he uses his condition to his advantage, in order to thrive in his career. However, after a devastating personal tragedy, Shadow takes on the darker role, as he travels deep into the underworld of killers and mercenaries. In this dark world he is forced to face his past, and soon discovers that feeling no pain is the most painful thing of all.

“In so many respects, Pallance’s character is the person we all wish we could be. He doesn’t stand on ceremony, cares little of what others think and has the courage to do what is right – regardless of the ramifications. And yet, even though his character seems cold and reckless on the surface, beneath that veneer is someone who cares intensely about his country, his friends and his family,” shares Crocker.

The series was cast and shot in Johannesburg last year with at least 80 per cent of the show filmed on location. “From the roofs of buildings, basements and bars to places like the Soweto Cooling Towers, penthouses and street scenes, we took great care in trying to move our characters through the city as much as possible. Johannesburg is, in fact, one of the show’s main characters,” comments Crocker.

Writing and pre-production of the series spanned roughly six months each, while post-production took almost an entire year. “My partners Chris and Colleen Lawrance, Phillip and Fred Wolmarans and Nick Keulemans are all equally responsible for Shadow. We’re very fortunate in that by and large our studio handles all aspects of the show: from breaking the story, writing and pre-production, right through to filming, post-production and final material delivery – virtually everything is done in-house,” says Crocker.

Shadow was shot on the Sony FS7 camera with Sigma cinema lenses. Most of the series was shot using a shoulder rig and gimbal stabiliser, with select scenes shot with camera cranes and dollies and very little work based on the tripod. Drones were also used for aerial shots throughout the production.

Crocker expands: “Camera choices and lighting were made according to the pacing of the scene and its dramatic needs. For scenes that required a voyeuristic or dream-like feeling, the camera would be mounted on a three-axle gimbal stabiliser, and for the more visceral fight scenes it would be mounted on a shoulder rig and harness. Various drone shots of the city were critical to establish and ground the show in Johannesburg.”

He adds, “From cross-cuts and fades to J-cuts and L-cuts, all editing decisions were always made in service of the story, its mood and tone and the pacing of the scene in question. There were several creative montages and a number of visual effects used to help heighten the tension.”

On Key Sound Studios was responsible for the sound of the series, a job which Crocker says “went way beyond clean audio, music and Foley effects. Much of the sound is designed around emotion and character headspace. What you see on screen and what you hear are not often the same thing, but the audio elements and the visuals combine together to build an emotional experience for the audience.”

In terms of special effects, the series made use of rotoscoping and compositing as well as match-moving and green-screening. Stunt sequences consisted of live stunt-action and various clean-plate effects.

Crocker says that budget constraints did limit the production; however, he hopes that the series punches above its weight in the international arena. “We hope that audiences will be moved by Shadow and inspired by what we’ve tried to create. Not just in terms of the show itself, but from a business perspective, as well. We’ve proven that with desire, belief and hard work, it’s possible for an independent production to be picked up by a major global player like Netflix.”


Producer: Phillip Wolmarans

Writer: Gareth Crocker

Director: Gareth Crocker and Fred Wolmarans

DOP/head of special effects: Nick Keulemans

Editor/technical director: Fred Wolmarans

Netflix announces first original African animated series, Mama K’s Team 4

Netflix, the world’s leading internet entertainment service, has announced its first original African animated series, Mama K’s Team 4, produced by Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios and leading London-based kids’ entertainment specialist CAKE.

Mama K’s Team 4 tells the story of four teen girls living in the neo-futuristic African city of Lusaka, Zambia, who are recruited by a retired secret agent still committed to saving the world. The series joins Netflix’s growing slate of original animated programming designed for kids and families everywhere, brought to 190 countries by artists from around the world.

Mama K’s Team 4 is created by Zambian writer Malenga Mulendema, who was one of eight winners in the Triggerfish Story Lab initiative in 2015, a pan-African talent search.

Designed by Cameroonian artist Malcolm Wope, it draws visual inspiration from retro-’90s R&B and hip hop girl groups.

To join the creative team on the series, Netflix is collaborating with Triggerfish Animation studio and CAKE to launch a continent-wide search for local female writing talent.

Malenga grew up watching cartoons on TV and found herself asking why no heroes looked like her and why they didn’t live in a world that felt like her own. “In creating a superhero show set in Lusaka, I hope to introduce the world to four strong African girls who save the day in their own fun and crazy way. Most importantly, I want to illustrate that anyone from anywhere can be a superhero,” commented Malenga.

“In addition to giving African writers a global platform on which to be heard, we are excited to present this powerful and entertaining new animated series that brings Malenga’s incredible and unique vision to life on Netflix,” said Melissa Cobb, vice president of original animation at Netflix. “Mama K’s Team 4 has the potential to give a whole new generation of African children the opportunity to see themselves on-screen in the powerful, aspirational characters they look up to.”

“After animating four multi-award-winning BBC Christmas specials set in England, including the Oscar-nominated Revolting Rhymes, Triggerfish is delighted to bring an African capital city to life on Netflix,” added Vanessa Ann Sinden, Triggerfish’s development producer. “Female writers from Africa who have had their work produced for either TV, film or theatre can find out more about the Writers Lab and how to apply from the careers page of our website, www.triggerfish.com.”

CEO & Creative Director at CAKE, Tom van Waveren, concluded, “We are delighted to be partnering with Triggerfish and Netflix on Mama K’s Team 4, a uniquely empowering, but most of all fun project, which brings a fresh perspective to a classic cartoon genre.”


First Netflix Original Series in Africa to star South African actress Pearl Thusi


Netflix, the world’s leading entertainment streaming service, continues its investment in international content with the announcement of its first Original series in Africa, the South African series Queen Sono.

The action-packed series follows Queen Sono, the highly trained top spy in a South African agency whose purpose is to better the lives of African citizens. While taking on her most dangerous mission yet, she must also face changing relationships in her personal life. The series will be created by director Kagiso Lediga and executive producer Tamsin Andersson.

South African actress, Pearl Thusi, will star as Queen Sono, with the character having been created with her in mind. Thusi is also known for her performance in the romantic dramedy, Catching Feelings, available on Netflix.

“We are excited to be working with Kagiso and Pearl, to bring the story of Queen Sono to life, and we expect it to be embraced by our South African users and global audiences alike,” said Erik Barmack, vice president of International Original Series at Netflix.

“We are delighted to create this original series with Netflix, and are super excited by their undeniable ability to take this homegrown South African story to a global audience. We believe Queen Sono will kick the door open for more awesome stories from this part of the world,” added the director and executive producer of the series, Kagiso Lediga.

The series is due to start production in 2019.


Netflix enters into multi-year overall deal with Chris Nee

Netflix has announced that it has entered into a multi-year overall deal with Chris Nee, the Peabody, Emmy, and Humanitas Prize-winning children’s television screenwriter and producer. Under the deal, Nee will write and produce new animated and live action series for preschool and all audiences exclusively for Netflix. Additionally, Netflix will have a first-look option on feature film projects from Nee and her production company, Laughing Wild.

Nee is the creator and executive producer of the multiple award-winning animated series Doc McStuffins (Peabody Award, NAACP Awards, multiple Daytime Emmy nominations), which was the first preschool show to feature an animated African American female as the lead character as well as a family led by LGBTQ parents. Nee also developed and executive produced the Emmy-nominated series Vampirina and began her career as an associate producer at Sesame Street International, where she spent time in countries like Mexico, Finland, Israel and Jordan working on their local productions for the award-winning show. She has spent over 20 years championing stories with diverse points of view that have paved the way for underrepresented voices to be heard.

Netflix recently unveiled a robust slate of animated event programming – both feature films and original series – in service of kids and families around the world. Preschool programming is an important part of Netflix’s full service offering for families as the service aims to produce high quality content with age-appropriate learnings and themes that parents can feel good about sharing with their kids.



Netflix establishes its first European Production hub in Madrid

Netflix, the world’s leading internet entertainment service, has announced the establishment of its first European production hub in Madrid.

The production hub will be located at Ciudad de la Tele (TV City), a new 22,000m2 campus in Tres Cantos, Madrid, being developed and managed by Grupo Secuoya, a leader in audio visual production services. It will be a central facility for Netflix’s growing slate of Spanish-language original content over the coming years including new and existing titles produced by Netflix, as well as series and films made by production partners for Netflix.

As part of the multi-year partnership, Grupo Secuoya will provide facility management and other services to Netflix, including being the exclusive production services partner for projects based at the Ciudad de la Tele campus. Netflix will take occupancy of three 1,200m2 sound stages from September, with the option to occupy additional space as construction completes.

The creation of the production hub reflects Netflix’s deepening investment in Spain, with over 13,000 cast, crew and extras working on 20 Netflix original productions across the country this year. Spanish titles coming soon to Netflix include season 3 of Las Chicas del Cable on 7 September and Élite, a young adult drama coming soon, with titles currently in production including Isabel Coixet’s new original film Elisa & Marcela and The Alcásser Murders, a new original documentary series.

Netflix recently announced an overall deal with Álex Pina, the creator of the worldwide phenomenon La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), the most watched non-English language show on Netflix. Netflix is also investing significantly in licensed and co-produced titles created by Spanish broadcasters and producers. This includes a recent agreement for first-option access to drama series from Atresmedia, with Fariña and La Catedral del Mar among the upcoming titles launching on Netflix globally.

Erik Barmack, vice president of International Originals at Netflix, said: “Spain has a rich heritage of innovative, immersive content creation and we are excited to strengthen our investment in the cultural heartland of Madrid. From San Sebastián to Santiago de Chile and Toronto to Tokyo, Spanish-language content is savoured by Netflix members across the world. The establishment of our first European production hub will create new opportunities for Spain’s incredible creative talent, as well as demonstrating our commitment to the production of original content throughout Europe.”

Raúl Berdonés, presidente at Grupo Secuoya said: “We are delighted that Netflix has chosen Ciudad de la Tele as the location of its first European production hub. Netflix sets a world-class standard in its production process and the decision to create a production hub in Madrid is proof of Spain’s leadership in the audiovisual industry, as well as the depth of its talent pool. Grupo Secuoya is delighted to partner with Netflix to support the production of Spanish-language series for the world.”

María Peña, CEO of ICEX, the Spanish Government Agency for Trade and Investment Promotion, said: “We very much welcome Netflix’s decision to establish its first European production hub in our country.  We are sure this project will contribute strongly to positioning Spain as a competitive location for the global entertainment industry. In that respect, it will be entitled to our full support.”

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