Intersexion: the talk of the town

By Drum Digital
08 December 2010

A TV SHOW with hardly any stars revolving around a topic many South Africans don’t like to talk about? “Eish man,” the critics said, “it’s doomed to failure.” But within just three weeks the makers of gritty SABC1 drama series Intersexions proved everyone wrong. The series rocketed up the rankings so fast it’s second only to Generations when it comes to the mostwatched programme on Mzansi television.

And this despite the fact the 25-episode series hits its five million viewers with a heavy dose of reality each week instead of the escape to fantasy-land of its soapie rivals. On Intersexions the storylines are real, tackling tough issues such as cheating, trust and sex across different age groups. Its success is even more surprising because the show focuses on HIV/Aids, a subject that often sees South Africans glaze over. But the once-sceptical critics agree the programme has become such a hit because it reflects the lives of ordinary people.

“I’m ecstatic it’s doing so well,” says Uzanenkosi Mahlangu, the writer, producer and brains behind the series. “It’s working because it has created debate. Television audiences are ready for it and I just knew locals were hungry for drama that tells our stories in a real way. Local TV shows have been stuck in the same old formula and I wanted to do something different.”

The 35-year-old owner of Ants Multimedia followed his instinct and ignored the naysayers to come up with a whole new way of making television. With input from big funders such as the prestigious Johns Hopkins – Health and Education in South Africa, he crafted a series where each episode stands alone like a short movie and is only loosely linked to the other episodes. It’s a format that has his backers celebrating the success of his daring idea. “It’s groundbreaking,” says Lusanda Mahlasela, deputy director of research at Johns Hopkins.

“Clearly South Africans are hungry for a local drama that’s honest and reflects their own lives in a non-judgmental way,” she adds. “We’re not out to shock people but to call attention to their behaviour and the world around them. And boy, it’s hitting the spot!”

For Uzanenkosi the main reason people identify with the programme is that it’s a warts-and-all look at how we are all linked by HIV.

“HIV finds people in different circumstances – it doesn’t matter whether they’re infected or affected but it’s about where they go from there. Do they find God or lose God? It’s about how people react. I wanted to show how HIV connects us all. It started with just one person and now it’s everywhere, so I wanted to show how the disease connects us from Africa to the White House in the United States.”

This message comes out loud and clear from the start as the series opens with bride-to-be Mandisa (played by Noxee Maqhashalala), putting on her wedding dress and hearing on the radio that a popular DJ is dying of an Aids-related illness. Mandisa panics as DJ Mo (played by Sdumo Mtshali) had been her lover five years earlier and so the story begins to show the chain of transmission of the HI virus from one person to the next.

Read the full article in DRUM of 16 December 2010

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