Queen Sono: A Feminist Potboiler? – Onyeka Nwelue

Queen Sono is marketed as Netflix’s First African Original Series.

It does not matter how huge the continent is, it is always made to feel (and look) small.

I have never read of “Netflix’s First Asian Original Series” or “Netflix’s First American Original Series.” I have seen “First Chinese Series,” “First Hindi Series,” and “First Korean Series.” It’s always easy to dumb down things about Africa and we would gleefully take it, without protest. Could have been better if it was tagged “Netflix’s First South African Original Series,” as the one Akin Omotoso is involved in, is being labeled “Netflix’s First Nigerian Original Series.”

I just have issues with tags and labels. They are better on clothes.

On the 8 hour flight from Sao Paulo to Florida, connecting to Kingston, I saw the first season of Queen Sono. I downloaded them while at the airport, to watch offline, once the plane departed to the United States. All through the flight, I enjoyed myself. I missed my meals, because I was engrossed in it. 

Queen Sono is fiction, so I suspended disbelief the moment I started watching it. From the moment I started, I wanted to be entertained. I did my best to avoid the dialogue about colonialism, Apartheid then neo-colonialism and terrorism, but those managed to pin themselves to the backdrop of each episode, almost inexplicably integrating itself into the depth of the narrative.

With that in mind, I began to enjoy the film, as I have always been a fan of the creator and director, Kagiso Lediga, after seeing Catching Feelings. It’s surreal to know how Mr. Lediga’s mind works: intellectual, smart, conversational, wise, profound. Catching Feelings is a lot different from the broadview of Queen Sono, which is, undeniably, a magnificent piece of art. 

I will not do what reviewers are doing: summarizing the project and saying what they like and what they don’t like and saying the things that they think the creators should do in the next episode. People will always want to project their visions on others. They want him, to use his opportunity of translating his personal dreams onto the screen, to project theirs.

I will not do that. 

Queen Sono, titular character, played by the sassy Pearl Thusi, is a cunning creation. The creator is so smart. He knows what era we are in: the #MeToo era and the Lunchtime of the Liberals. He swapped the dashboard and turned the table: let all the badass characters be female. It’s such a propagandist work of art, pandering to the sensibility of women and massaging the ego of feminists. I totally understand why he did what he did and there is nothing wrong with that. Infact, such a powerful piece of entertainment is needed, in an era, where young girls must be raised properly, devoid of inferior mindset, where women lament inequality, yet, are their greatest hindrance and their own biggest enemies. And, this brings me to my favourite character in the series: Ekaterina Gromova. Ekaterina is a Russian character, played by Kate Liquorish. Her composure, her gait, her speech pattern, her demeanour. Everything is striking. I imagine myself being mean like her. Like I said, I will not summarise or talk about the plot of the film. 

I want everyone to see Queen Sono. There is nothing wrong with the direction the series is currently taking. Its audience will grow, with time. Queen is a character that will stick to the memory of everyone. It’s also a series that people will spend time, over beer, dissecting each episode. I’m very excited for the next season. 

The only problem I have with Queen Sono, as a frequent traveller – having visited over 58 countries – is that the creators of this series duped my imagination. Films are meant to show and not tell. On the screen, you see the filmmakers write Nairobi and then, you find out that the scenes were actually shot in Johannesburg. Having travelled well in Nairobi and Johannesburg, I noticed that the scene where Ekaterina and Queen fight, was shot in Bertrand Café, my favourite spot on Fox Street in Maboneng. I felt so duped and thought it’s important to be honest, even if the Netflix budget is not generous enough, to go shoot in Nairobi. I felt really bad. Honestly.

A quick mention of Lagos and a footage of the yellow Lagos danfos appears. I didn’t want to talk about this, but the scene shot in Maboneng, which looks like Lediga’s favourite spot also, mesmerized me. Parts of Catching Feelings were shot in Maboneng, too. I spend Sundays in Maboneng, walking around. So, I know it so well. Don’t shoot any scene there and say it’s Nairobi!

What will happen when women begin to rule the world? The series answers it all: the world will not be much different from what it looks like now. There may just be more wars and disasters. This stems from the way Ekaterina wants to dominate the continent and how Queen doesnt care a hoot about hurting people, so long as she gets things done the way she wants. Can women really do better than men? Is women empowerment hindered by women? How much can women do together? Do women hate themselves? 

Queen Sono says a lot; like a broad canvas but its main aim, is to be able to pander to women, to make them feel better, feel powerful, to be hopeful. But, then, it’s also a fishy attempt to make the continent of Africa look so small, even though it was not the agenda of the filmmakers, because they tried so hard to use languages to showcase how big South Africa is. 

Queen sono is highly recommended. 

Onyeka Nwelueis a writer and filmmaker. His film, Agwaetiti Obiuto, won the Best Feature by a Director Award at the 2018 Newark International Film Festival. 

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