The past two decades have seen an increase in the number of narratives that black people can relate to but 20 years later, it’s all starting to feel very singular in focus.
Allow me to elaborate.
A recent New York Times article I read about what America’s most popular TV shows right now say about race and money got me thinking…
In an interview with American website Vox, Insecure star Issa Rae clarified what she believes is a popular misconception about her award-winning show.
“This isn’t a show exclusively about, like, the struggle of being black.” Instead, “it’s just regular black people living life.”
The author of the article, Salamishah Tillet, went on to explain that by setting her show in South Los Angeles, Rae is able to reveal the spectrum of African-American class diversity.
The same can be said for some South African townships and THAT is what got me thinking. When are we going to get more mainstream South African shows depicting the varying levels of wealth/ different classes that live in predominantly black areas or townships?
Apart from shows like Greed & Desire, Zabalaza, Muvhango and Ashes to Ashes amongst a few others, most dramas and soapies still depict black life as the polar opposite reality of poverty and struggle in the township juxtaposed with affluence in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg.
To outsiders, this makes it seem as though affluence is not something that can be associated with life in the township and on the rare occasion that a kasi character has money, they are ALWAYS depicted as flashy, loud and ghetto fabulous. In addition to that, said characters are portrayed as financially naïve and bound to lose their riches soon.
As such, the aforementioned shows are a breath of fresh air in that they portray families who, through hard work, have come into some wealth but have chosen to settle and grow within the township. The unfortunate part is that the families in these shows always have a criminal side business to supplement their lifestyles (like the Khoza family in The Queen and the Namane family in Ashes to Ashes).
Oh, by the way, you should really check out our interview with the Khoza brother's SK & Abdul right here.
While that makes for some addictive viewing, it creates a stereotype that is compounded every time a show runs with that same story line. It also makes it easier for the average person to assume that any black person who comes into immense wealth must have done so through corrupt means which is not always the case.
In recent years, the black middle class has grown exponentially and is now a significant part of the South African demographic. What some shows fail to take into account is the fact that not everyone who falls into this category packed their things and moved to the burbs at the first sign of success. Which is why we commend Muvhango for keeping Thandaza's character (played by Sindi Dlathu) in Soweto despite the fact that she became a millionaire.
The township doesn't need to be depicted as something one must get away from at all costs. Therefore, TV producers mustn't forget what a huge role they play in public perception (even with fictional stories).
So, if art is meant to imitate life, it’s about time the narratives evolved to match our realities more closely.
If shows truly are made about us, for us, by us, there should be a clear effort to rectify and challenge obvious narrative inconsistencies.
Main image credit: youthvillage.co.za