What's Happening?


Are all of SA's programmes aimed at the black audience?

Thembi Nyandeni of Isibaya celebrates as Denny Miller runs on to the stage to collect his award for Best Director of TV Soapie at the SAFTA awards night held at Gallagher Estates in Midrand.
Picture: Boxer Ngwenya
As an avid watcher and writer of television stories and stories about TV, I always like being kept in the loop of what is going on. Hence I find myselves on the look out for various organisations that have an effect on what we seen on screen and in film.

I recently came across the Writer's Guild of South Africa, after they held their Muse Awards, which was to award the various writers who give us the mostly amazing work we see on film, TV and theatre. I then checked out their Facebook Page and became a fans.'

Yesterday I spotted a letter that was posted on the WGSA's page on Facebook. It was from a 'concerned writer of SA TV' 
A concerned writer of SA TV wrote to us. Would like to hear your thoughts.

"I am a white South African writer and actor and really enjoy working on and watching our local productions. I was one of the many viewers who tuned in to the SAFTA Awards last Saturday and was more than ready to celebrate our local industry. As award followed award, one thing became so obvious it actually spoiled the whole show for me: all the nominated TV programmes were aimed at a black audience. Most of them did not even include a token white person.

I have worked on some of these programmes, and while you're writing, your characters take over. They're not a certain colour or race, but people who live in my head. It's also not so obvious when you watch a programme here or there, but at the SAFTAs it was like a slap through the face: White people are not seen as part of the SA population on TV and only feature as the occasional baddie or nerd.

I always thought that TV should reflect reality, and the reality is that there are still a couple of white people in South Africa. Funnily enough, now more than ever, white and black people interact - not only on a business level, but personally as well. Why don't our TV programmes reflect this? This racial segregation doesn't seem to be so prevalent in movies, and in soapies like Sewende Laan the audience vote has once again shown that it's okay to have people of different races live in the same world.
I really wonder who has the final say in this. Is it the broadcasters, the producers or are we, the writers, thinking that white characters will not find a market? Because it certainly isn't the audience who insist on this.
I'd love to hear what other people have to say about this."

The cast of High Rollers
I watched the Saftas and as much as I noticed that a deserving actor, like Anthony Coleman, who played the complex David King in SABC 3's High Rollers, lost out to Siyabonga Twala's role on Intersexions, which wasn't as complex, gripping or showed off his acting skills as much as Anthony Coleman, I didn't feel that white actors/shows were being short changed. It just wasn't his luck. The judges felt that Siyabonga delivered a better performance than Anthony. 

In a country with a black majority, it's not far fetched to think that stories, especially in the 20th year of our democracy, will be targeted at black people. After all it's all about ratings and when a show has great ratings, it's thought of as successful. Whether it's good or not, well, that's besides the point. So of course our TV will reflect this. There are some shows that are really good that weren't nominated enough. High Rollers, Rockville are some of those. I even wrote in my TV Snitch column that it was a travesty that Brumidla van Rensburg was snubbed for her High Rollers performance. Bheki Mkhwane was also snubbed for his performance on Isibaya, and I still believe that his performance on Isibaya, although theatrical, dramatic and OTT, was one of the best of the year. He was also snubbed. We can go on and on. 

Cast and crew of Isibaya after wining at the Royalty Soapie Awards
What happened on Saturday as I followed the awards on Twitter was very interesting. One of the things that I noticed on Twitter, was how many people were shocked that behind these 'black' stories, there were a lot of white people calling the shots, either as head writers, directors, DOPs, etc, especially on Isibaya,  which is a 'black' story and one of the best we've had in years. Here are some of the tweets: 

The series of tweets by Angel Kazi shed light. The 'darkie' term is colloquial for 'black person' and is not thought of as derogatory.

Actress, Florence Masebe, who is very vocal when it comes to matters in the entertainment industry, then had a series of tweets last night, which were very eye opening:

A few years ago, SABC 2's Erfsondes and Askies were king. SABC 3's The Lab and Hard Copy ruled roost.  They won all the awards and deservedly so, they were excellent. The only shows that were targeted at 'black' people during that time, were the soapies, SABC 1's Zone 14 and e.tv's Shooting Stars. 
Cast of Geraamtes in die Kas
Whoever the writer of this letter is, I'm sure he's aware that there are more white writers behind the scenes in SA TV than other races. And they write the 'black' stories, which I'm sure now explains to many about the odd story lines we sometimes get on 'black' shows. 

Statements like : "White people are not seen as part of the SA population on TV and only feature as the occasional baddie or nerd." are ridiculous and clearly the writer of this letter hasn't watched SA TV in a while. Check 7de Laan, Geraamtes in die Kas, High Rollers, Isidingo, The Wild, Swartwater, The Mating Game, the kykNET shows and so many more. There are white stories being told and there are white actors and characters who are not depicted as 'baddies' or 'nerds'. Funny how I don't see Coloured stories being told, nor do I see Indian stories being told. 

Cast of Rockville

However I am glad that this issue was raised as it will kick start honest conversations in the industry. Look at Afrikaans films and how well they are doing and how many are being released every year? Count the movies targeted to 'black' people and you'll see just how different the playing field is. 

So I hope that this letter will begin a series of debates about South African TV as a whole. The whispers need to end and the truths need to be out in the open and everyone needs to know where they stand. 

The TV Snitch- Buhle Mbonambi 

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