South African audiences are growing tired of the once-popular telenovela-style content.
Things are changing, and we are now able to brag about how there is a Shaka Zulu series remake brewing in the east of Johannesburg, and how Layla Swart’s star-studded Yellowbone Entertainment production, Blood Psalms, could be our take on a road riddled with Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings.
Following the showcasing of South African storytelling on a global platform with Blood and Water and Queen Sono, Connie and Shona Ferguson are now going to show the world that Johannesburg is anything but ordinary.
When it comes to the content that truly entertains us, we love the tantalising prospect of money and power, and how the two play against each other.
The Fergusons’ latest show to get picked up by Netflix zeroes in on this almost subconscious directive that fuels us.
The trailer, which was unveiled after much anticipation and to much excitement, shows a story set in the City of Gold that so few of us own.
Kings of Joburg, the story of a tormented family and legacy lust, unfurls with a script driven by such talents as TK Sebothoma, Buhle Samuels, brothers SK and Abdul Khoza, Nnekwa Tsajwa, Cindy Mahlangu, Zolisa Xaluva and Shona Ferguson.
Shona, who produced and stars in the show as ringleader, Simon “Vader” Masire of the Kings of Joburg brotherhood, explained how the story came to be.
“As a company, we are known for creating female-centric shows told in a masculine environment. A couple of years ago, I started thinking about telling a story about brotherhood. I wanted the audience to see each character through the eyes of the other before they made up their minds about who these people were. Simon and Mogomotsi are those characters. When I think, I visualise, so I started writing the opening of the series and set clear boundaries of who the brothers are in our world.
“I called talented writer Linda Bere and, from my first pitch to her, she got it and ran with the story.”
He lauded his cast and told us how he had handpicked each of them.
“I personally auditioned most of them and I had to get reliable people who we could count on because this was our first independently owned production and there was no safety net.
“The shoot was extremely hard, but the energy on set was so positive that I could be in that space forever. Our partner Samad [Davis] was and continues to be a big advocate for US/Africa collaborations, so he made a lot of calls to make sure that was represented in the series.”
Ferguson Films partnered with Davis’ US-based Visionary Media for a jolt of wider international reach.
Ferguson found it heart-warming to watch his cast respond to their roles as they did.
Xaluva, famed for playing the character Jason in Mfundi Vundla’s original Generations, leapt at the chance to work on this production.
Playing Simon’s younger brother Mogomotsi, Xaluva says he got the call to shoot the pilot with only two days to prepare for the role.
“Naturally, there wasn’t enough time to prep, connect with the role, research ... so I had to play the character on instinct. On reading other episodes, I began to realise the complexities of Mogomotsi as a person, and I fell in love with his heart. He has endured so much heartache and pain, but his resilience and integrity remain his core characteristics. By virtue of being an actor, I’m always standing by to play some character; stepping into someone new is therefore second nature.”
Shona and his wife and business partner Connie funded this endeavour from their own pockets.
He recounted: “We could only afford to shoot a few episodes at a time, and this was the most difficult part. We shot half the series last year and the rest early this year. There were times when we thought we should throw in the towel, but there was just too much at stake.”
The trailer starts off with hints of a purely action-based series. For instance, if they were to chop the idea of the movie Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema into a series.
Kings of Joburg, however, has a cunning twist that involves our cultural affiliation and fascination with the supernatural.
“In Africa, we’ve all heard stories of demons, cults and demigods, and it was fun to have some of these elements in the story. But we were very careful to not make it the driving premise of the series. When we tell magic stories, it’s commonly witchcraft and mostly based in rural areas because that’s what our audience is used to seeing. Creating a mythical creature with supernatural powers of persuasion and setting this in real time, in a real city and a real world was fun to play with.”
The six-part series is set to air on Netflix from December 4.