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Kagiso Lediga has been carving a name for himself in the local TV and film industry - from being part of the Pure Monate Show and Phat Joe Live to film writing and directing credits that include features such as Bunny Chow, Blitz Patrolie, Wonder Boy for President, Matwetwe and Catching Feelings.
He's one of the few South African director-writer-producers who has been able to consistently produce work over the years and on Friday, 28 February 2020 he dropped his first project funded by Netflix: Queen Sono, starring Pearl Thusi.
Which means big money and big distribution.
So does the spy action drama deliver or is it just hype? Well, let's dig in...
Let's start with the stuff that really works: the scope. Lediga could have just set Sono in Mzansi, left it at that and told more or less the same story but the series is ambitious.
We get Zanzibar, Jo'burg, a bit of Kenya and a bit of Lagos, which is something local productions are not accustomed to producing because of lack of funds.
The country-hopping is a genre trope in spy thrillers from Bond to Bourne but it's very novel in this context because it's not-so-common-place in our context on the continent.
The series is beautifully photographed by Motheo Moeng, who collaborated with Lediga on his last two films. He gives us the rich hues of Zanzibar and Jozi night life and some beautiful photography of black bodies like Vuyo Dabula in his Congo mine scene.
He also makes the intimate scenes at homes between characters feel real, whether in the township or the suburb.
Unfortunately the shooting does not translate to the writing.
The camera unit is able to hold these different settings and tones into one cohesive whole but the writing doesn't completely resolve the tension, which makes the series feel slightly unbalanced.
There's a tension in the writing that works but not all the time. At one point the series comes off as a real world critique of the continent by referencing the Gupta brothers (The Greek brothers), Jacob Zuma (James Ngcobo gives a wonderful rendition of a president out of his depth) and Robert Mugabe.
The series even references the life of Winnie Mandela and the assassination of Chris Hani (this being Queen Sono's mom's story).
At the same time, the series wants to stick to genre tropes, like nebulous touch screens and glamourous spy tropes ala the James Bond of hobnobbing with the 1 percenter, which comes across very in the realm of fantasy.
It would have been cool to get a real sense of spy intricacies on the continent and not one carved out purely from a genre codes playlist.
Pearl Thusi has a ball as Sono, Abigail Kubeka is a tour de force as MaZet - Queen Sono's grandmother - and Loyiso Madinga really flexes his acting chops but I still feel Vuyo Dabula's Shandu is extremely underutilized.
Although he has a fascinating arc as the secondary Bane like the Batman villain - the flawed revolutionary - his arc is overpowered by the white monopoly capital chief villain arc.
Kate Liqourish chews up the screen as the big bad. You believe she can go toe-to-toe with anyone and her goal and drive is clearly defined whilst our titular character Queen's arc is hampered by the unevenness in the series wanting to be everything to everybody.
Queen's arc gets hampered by a story that has a lot of elements that keep stopping and starting to introduce other nuances that are also stopped to introduce other elements.
For example, the story of Queen's mom does not have an organic growth from episode one to six. Some elements end up happening off-screen or via dialogue and some critical elements are not even paid off within the season or the reveal has no impact on the general story per se, which makes you ask why go there in the first place?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the series has horrible writing but it could have been tighter and the flow of action that exposes character could have been treated better. The writing needed the script to be polished a little bit more for the gaps to be closed.
Although the series ends at a very promising part, I was not blown away when everything was said and done.
Tebogo Malope and Kagiso Lediga do a lot with the material and there are flashes of brilliance and risk taking in certain parts but there are elements of playing it safe and sticking to genre convention which I hope, come Season 2, the team will not repeat.
Ryan Coogler showed that one can infuse real world politics into a commercial entity without coming across as sanitised and tame.
If Queen Sono wants to be another Bond in Africa that's cool, but if it wants to be something more then commit fully to that and don't just throw threads that don't connect into a cohesive whole because it's nice seeing Africans having budgets to tell stories our ways so let's polish it.
What it Felt like: A female James Bond doing a trip in the Wakanda world instead of a flesh and bone African spy thriller.
* Trash **You are on your own *** E ya zama **** Almost Perfect *****Instant Classic
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