Available on Netflix SA February 28
Let’s play a game. You drink every time you spot a South African stand-up comedian in a scene in Queen Sono. Loyiso Madinga. Kagiso “KG” Mokgadi. Rob van Vuuren. Claudine Ullman. Ntosh Madlingozi. Tracey-Lee Oliver.
It would be a good idea to stop drinking here to avoid bloating or toilet breaks during what is one of the most interesting espionage sagas on streaming services.
It should come as no surprise that Kagiso Lediga – the creator, writer and sometimes director of Queen Sono – roped in comedians as cast members. After all, Lediga is one of the game changers of South African comedy. And to be clear: while some of the roles played by these talents may have humorous lines, they aren’t played purely to laugh out loud.
The narrative of Queen Sono is no laughing matter. Queen, played by Pearl Thusi, is a rough-and-tumble spy who works for an agency based in South African. Queen travels all over Africa to deter or destroy individuals and organisations with a penchant for the nefarious. She is often on such missions with Fred, played by Madinga. He is the stereotypical nerd – super smart, tech-savvy and socially awkward.
If Fred is the brain, then Queen is the brawn with an icy cool wit. Queen’s only weakness seems to be her friends who have become family – a common thread among some of the characters in the series. How this weakness presents itself gives viewers a 3-D look at the characters.
It’s a great device because ultimately, family represents love and love is the motive why the “good” and “bad” guys do what they do. Queen Sono is Netflix’s first African original series and, as expected, the series takes on a Pan-Africanist slant in how it addresses issues such as xenophobia, racism, democracy, classism and religion, and more.
It’s in subtle ways such as how and when ish is really about to go down, Queen’s usually braided or slicked down hair is suddenly an abundant Afro.
It’s also in unmistakable ways – such as how cronies in conflict tell each other: “You want to be a big man here in Africa? This isn’t your house, immigrant.”
While there are many clichés to describe Queen Sono – a breath of fresh air and all that – its faults come from technical aspects. You’ll get used to it but in the beginning, it sounds as if the lines were overdubbed in a studio. Way too clean for the bustle of the settings Queen and company find themselves in.
Then there are the titles that denote which part of Africa the story is set in. Sometimes they’ll say Harare, other times you’ll read Congo. This is a big deal because this is a Pan-African series and as such, doesn’t subscribe to the notion that Africa is a country.
It would be nice to have a uniform title treatment, preferably one that specifies which part of the country we’re looking at. Oh, and Fred initially has this jarring accent. Maybe it will be explained during the series but I couldn’t tell where he’s supposed to be from.
But other than that, you may find yourself incredibly invested in the story. And the beautiful landscapes. And the sex scenes. And the multidimensional look at Africa’s past and present.
Queen Sono is a must-see.