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Vinette Ebrahim in Skemerdans.
Vinette Ebrahim in Skemerdans.
Photo: Zaheer Banderker






4/5 Stars


Skemerdans is a neo-noir murder mystery about the Oasis night club and the battle around it between two brothers, a widow and an organised crime syndicate. 


The Galaxy nightclub is such a symbolic figure in the Cape Town coloured community that almost everybody has a distinct memory (whether good or bad) of their experience at the club. For me, it was the Thursday after the June exam in my first year of university, wearing my purple bubble dress and listening to the house band play the best of Ne-Yo. Like the club in which it is set, Skemerdans feels both nostalgic and familiar, yet you are always surprised.

Skemerdans is a story about the Fortune family. There is the oldest son, Glenn (Kevin Smith), who owns the nightclub, The Oasis, his wife Shireen (Ilse Klink) and their daughter Jessie (Trudy van Rooy). The second son, Trevor (Brendan Daniels) and his wife Bonita (Carmen Maarman) and the third son, Warren (Ceagan Arendse). They are all overseen by the matriarch, Mercia (Vinette Ebrahim).

It's easy to write Skemerdans off as just another Cape Flats story about gangsterism. But it is everything but that. It shows a side of coloured culture and Cape Town that we don't usually see – the side of the affluent coloured people involved in white-collar crime, of classism, of keeping up appearances. In interviews, the director, Amy Jeptha said that the series intentionally doesn't have shots of the beaches and the mountains; it is significant that it is showing the side of Cape Town that tourists don't often get to see.

Skemerdans, in essence, is a neo-noir murder mystery. I can safely say that I did not work out who the murderer was until the writers wanted us to know, and that it is an attribute to their craftsmanship. The answer might not have been obvious, but it was not implausible or came from left-field as less-experienced writers tend to write twists. Jephta is a powerhouse in the making, and having written Ellen: The Ellen Pakkies Story, the short film Soldaat, among others, she has shown that she is able to tell a gripping story that is drenched in grit and drama, yet still feels authentic to the community of whose story she is telling.

While answering the main 'whodunnit' question, the ending of the series felt incomplete in a sense. There were many questions and plotlines that were not resolved, which made me hope for a season two, and if we don't get one, it will feel unsatisfactory. There was a range of characters introduced, and some were fleshed out more than others. If we do get a season two, I would love to learn more about some of the supporting characters, such as Chanel (Kim Syster) and Melanie (Ann Juries).

While the entire cast gave extraordinary performances, I have to single out Vinette Ebrahim and Ceagan Arendse. Ebrahim plays the family matriarch, Mercia, a woman who shifts from good church aunty to crime lord in a matter of seconds. And Ebrahim is seamless in this performance, you believe her that she cares about her family and her church attendance, and you also believe her when she is making dangerous deals. Ebrahim is a legendary South African actor known for her iconic role as Charmaine on 7de Laan, and this was such an excellent depiction of her range.

Arendse plays Warren, the youngest Fortune brother whose dodgy deals lands them in a lot of hot water (that Mercia has to bail him out of). Arendse plays the role with so much vulnerability that even though I was annoyed by his actions at the beginning of the series, by the end, I couldn't help but sympathise with him. The nuance in his performance was so breathtaking, and I really think that Skemerdans was the perfect vehicle to display his talent.

The series, while dark and mostly taking place at night, never feels too dark aesthetically. The problem that often befalls noir shows is that they can be too dark, and one might struggle to see what is happening on screen. But Skemerdans has put a lot of work into the lighting and cinematography, and the result is stunning. This, if anything, is proof of how far South African filmmaking has come over the last ten years.

Skemerdans is important because it shows the complexities of coloured people. For too long, coloured characters were either written as stereotypes or as blank slates. Skemerdans gives them personalities, nuance, contradictions, all the messiness that makes people real. They speak in Afrikaaps - a mixture of English and Afrikaans, which coloured people are known for; their accents vary depending on where they grew up, the experiences differ. It's a complex myriad of stories, and I hope that they are given a season two to continue the journey with the Fortune family.


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