Why we’re watching web series

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Tendai Chitima. Picture: Supplied
Tendai Chitima. Picture: Supplied

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In the age of entertainment-on-demand, having a TV network dictate your viewing is antiquated.

Streaming services are raking in subscriptions and bursting with content, but we’ve seen a quiet alternative emerging – web series.

As is the case with most internet phenomenons, there are no rules to web series.

Locally, you need only look at the efforts of hip-hop site SlikourOnLife (which offers shows such as Verse of the Month with Stogie T), Balcony Interviews and Behind the Bars, which have all been picked up by a national broadcaster.

International platform Complex has soared with the series Sneaker Shopping, while Vice’s F**k, That’s Delicious (with rapper Action Bronson) is a cooking show with an OG pep to its step.

We reached out to the cast and creators of Working Wives, a reality-style series based on hilarious blog posts from Zimbabwe’s Sharon Bwanya.

A universal story

This eight-part dramedy-come-mockumentary presents us with a universal story told via Zimbabwe.

With the tagline “the good life is smoke and mirrors”, the Working Wives creators say of the plot: “What was meant to be the baby shower of her dreams becomes a nightmare when Mabel’s twin nephews are kidnapped, which triggers the revelation of the secrets of the women she thought were her friends.”

At Doppio Zero in Fourways, Joburg, we link up with the cast and director, who share what the process of creating this show was like.

Actors Vusani Mutsila, Dikelo Mamiala, Tendai Chitima and Sbu Dlamini are excited to talk about their journey of guerrilla-like film making on a skimpy budget. They used locations in Johannesburg as places in Zimbabwe and shot at crew members’ houses, using those to double as more than one character setting with some set design trickery.

I found it fascinating. There was that video diaries-mockumentary thing, and I thought it was amazing to watch people’s lives unfold and then get the inside scoop.
Dikelo Mamiala, actor on Working Wives

Mamiala tells us: “The project has been running for two and a half to three years. In the beginning, it was called Hardworking Wives and was shot in 2017 in Harare. The show’s creator, Tendayi Nyeke, had done the pilot with her friends. I found it fascinating. There was that video diaries-mockumentary thing, and I thought it was amazing to watch people’s lives unfold and then get the inside scoop.”

Given the nature of this project, Mamiala later found herself doubling as a producer and working as the creator’s right hand.

Dikelo Mamiala

Chitima sheds light on the origins of the story, as well as the sassy but deeply complex characters.

Conservative society

“I play Mai MJ [Mai is the Shona term for ‘mother of’], who is called Ruby. I came on board after they replaced somebody else. The show’s storyline and scripts are based on blogs written by a woman in Zimbabwe. She wrote about the lives of women she was seeing around her in Harare. Each post became a hit because they were so interesting, and the way she wrote was very funny and intriguing. Because Zimbabwe is generally a conservative society, she took [the story] elsewhere.”

Bwanya started writing in 2017 after overhearing a conversation between two women who were showing off to one another, competitively comparing milestones.

Chitima likens the rise of this series to that of HBO’s Insecure, which was created by Issa Rae and partially based on Rae’s acclaimed web series Awkward Black Girl.

Nyeke, the founder of Ndiani Studios and the show’s director and showrunner, tells us: “These women are actually living the lives of many women in our own realities. I think the storyline will resonate with a lot of people. Ruby is waiting to get married. You know it’s real, she has issues.”

The director aimed to cultivate a look similar to a reality show not unlike BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood, using confessional interviews to explain interactions between characters. This is done more to poke fun at the genre.

Uncaged characters

Explaining how he looked to uncage the characters from their confines on page, Dlamini says: “This is a story where most of the characters end up going through a journey of discovering themselves. Most people get boxed in a particular way by the expectations of being a housewife. The characters are in a cocoon-like state and need to become butterflies.”

While production on the show is basic, it is coherent and written with attention to continuity and with clear story arcs.

I think the hardest part of shooting anything like this is that it’s independent, so you need to be considerate as this is somebody’s personal money that they’ve put into this.
Actor Vusani Mutsila

Those may seem like obvious facets, but Starbucks coffee cups have been known to appear in episodes of Game of Thrones, and you know you hate what happened to Jon Snow at the end of eight long seasons.

As for this being the second attempt at igniting this concept, it does better than what we’ve seen locally, what with the reboot of the classic Generations.

The point being, budget and status do not always equate to an onscreen gem.

The brooding Mutsila, a film maker who was coaxed into appearing in front of the lens, says: “I’m a bit of a masochist, so the most difficult parts of this are the parts that I love. I think the hardest part of shooting anything like this is that it’s independent, so you need to be considerate as this is somebody’s personal money that they’ve put into this. So don’t be late, don’t be an a**hole.”

Don't question yourself

He encourages a Nike-like attitude, saying you should just do it – film that idea and see what happens; don’t question yourself too much.

The one thing this show does well is offer another instance of the duality of art. Through the classic discipline of storytelling, it entertains – which the group resoundingly agrees is what they hope you take away from the show – and it unites two countries that are often at odds with each other.

Working Wives is available for viewing on Vimeo


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Phumlani S Langa 

Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
Phumlani.Sithebe@citypress.co.za
www.citypress.co.za
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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