Spoiler free review
It has been 445 days since Netflix announced their first original coming from Africa, namely Queen Sono. I have waited. I have followed closely. I have stalked. Not to mention, over a 100 series have been released since then. Of course, I am exaggerating. But, you get the gist- Queen Sono is finally here.
Queen Sono stars Pearl Thusi as a South African spy working for a secret government organisation who are in charge of intercepting and preventing any form of social or political unrest that tries to affect the daily life of the South African people and Africa at large. It features more investigating and intel gathering than action sequences that we have come to know with Western spies.
Being an African original, it features creatives majorly based in Africa who are supported with some Netflix cash flow. These creatives include the creator, director and writer, Kagiso Lediga, who I loved in Catching Feelings. Also, starring in a supporting role is Vuyo Dabula, who you are more likely to know facially and not by his name.
The series does so much while trying not to do much at the same time. With just six episodes which are 47 minutes or less, the story feels compact while planting enough seeds for the future. It deals closely with characterization and development of the supporting characters by calling attention to how they relate to Queen Sono and their future development. Their lives are focused on with both flashbacks and present-day storylines in order to justify things to come in the future. This can be seen in various side characters, where it feels like they are playing no significant roles, but on closer look, they are all just seeds being planted which can be referred to when the world of Sono expands.
Pearl Thusi playing the titular role Queen Sono, was drafted into this special government force known as the ‘Special Operations Group’ to redeem herself from her erratic and unsettled life. With this group of people, she feels like she has a family while still playing the role of the spoilt last born who makes the family proud despite her frequent shortcomings. Queen Sono lives in the shadow of her mother, who was killed years before in tangled affairs of a messy political event. Her mother, Safiya Sono was a well respected political activist who is still idolized by the South African society even after her death. This happens to the extent that a special remembrance takes place annually to celebrate the selfless life that she lived. Such shoes as her mother’s is hard to fill for someone who had to live through the tragedy as a kid.
As I said, this season was more of seed planting than delivery of twists or wrapping up of storylines. Being a very short season with 6 episodes helped it to tell its story well and not overdo the narrative it has to tell despite having Netflix behind them. I would not fault any of the acting performances, as it comprised of good, bad and mediocre, but no performance of note knocked out of the park. It might just be an issue of casting, where it feels like some actors would be better suited for other roles. I just hope favouritism or nepotism is not coming into play here. It is the truth- we are in Africa, baby.
Queen Sono tries to fight her a dark past which holds her down from time to time with a fine sense of humour and attitude of indifference. Unfortunately, this would not solve her problems every time and only adds it up for a bigger trauma to deal with later on. In order to battle this dark past of hers, she needs to come to terms with what really happened to her mother by investigating the true nature of her death. Furthermore, the series deals with themes such as neo-colonialism, corruption, terrorism and self identity, which are all interwoven into Queen Sono’s larger colourful garment.
However, one major problem I have with the series is really basic and could have been avoidable. I found it half-baked that she could not come up with a better profession as a cover for her true lifestyle of espionage. It is ridiculous that the organisation she works for can not provide a better cover that would conceal her true day job. She is left with telling people in her life, like her grandmother and best friend who bug her about how she makes a living that she is an art seller. Not a single person believes that crap, but they seem to just let it go, just for the sake of we are going to move on to something else. If she is happy, then we are happy.
Being a series that promotes female empowerment in Africa, which introduces a female character in such a narrative, it is an important milestone for the African society. Men who grew up watching James Bond and Ethan Hunt to stroke their misogynistic ego would know that there is possibility for women to also do the same and they either move along or get left behind along with their VHS. This is a huge statement. Moreover, those who have been crying for a female James Bond can support this project starring an African female spy who is conscious of her style. Otherwise, you all could keep whining about landing male roles that have been overused for women who could do well and better with new concepts like Queen Sono. Sadly, I have not seen much support from these females. But they would write twitter threads as to why the next James Bond should be female. It is James Bond they really want. I hope you enjoyed the Ghostbusters reboot and Ocean’s 8.
Queen Sono uses its novelty as being the first African Netflix original series to gain viewers. Even though they must have grown tired of spy stories, they still tuned in. We have spy narratives that could be delved into that had not been portrayed before in Western spy movies. For example, neo-colonialism could be explored deeper and radically in order to add a new layer. White man no fit do anything. Do not be scared of stepping on toes. You have got full creative control for a reason. If they go into season 2 with the same formula, it might lose viewers who only watched season 1 because of its newness. Subsequently, it is up to those in charge to create a bigger and more colourful season 2 with stimulating writing and more engaging adventures which would retain those who have believed from the beginning and attract initial doubting minds.
What were your thoughts on the six-episode season? I am hoping they did not take over 400 days to just produce 6 episodes and strongly believing that there would be a second season released later this year along with another African original to mark a groundbreaking 2020.