Queen Sono is a promising new series that is as exciting and vivacious as our titular character. Netflix’s first African Original series has all the ingredients needed for the perfect spy thriller, and I would like to thank Netflix for giving me the opportunity to watch the first six-episodes ahead of the shows premiere on February 28.
The show follows Queen Sono (Pearl Thusi), a badass spy who travels across the continent to do the work needed to be rid of people who mean to harm Mother Africa. Haunted by the assassination of her militant freedom fighter mother, Saifyia Sono, Queen is determined to live up to her mother’s legacy and act out her rage towards those her mother would oppose and who may have done her in too. It isn’t a spy thriller without some betrayal.
Queen navigates the murky waters of being a spy for a secret operation within the South African government, a government riddled with corruption and is still evolving post-Apartheid. Queen is surrounded by figures who are also struggling to navigate this life, but her story is primarily juxtaposed with Shandu (Vuyo Dabula) and Ekaterina Gromova’s (Kate Liquorish). Shandu is an anti-colonist freedom fighter who leads the Watu Wema, their mission is to scrub Africa of the deeply entrenched influences of Western colonialism and the colonists that remain. Ekaterina is the primary villain of the series, a modern-day colonist who wants to seize military control over the continent. This control would afford her the ability to continue stripping Africa of resources and wealth, and it would settle a personal score if she succeeds.
These three characters represent the shows attempt in presenting the audience with a realistic, albeit exaggerated, look at the state of South Africa and other African nations. In a postcolonial world, there’s an awful lot of colonisation going on, masked with less confronting terminology. Whilst this is a story about a spy doing what she needs to do to bring justice to her people, vengeance for her mother, and peace for herself, the show utilises this genre to speak to larger and complex themes.
In these first few episodes, the show is still finding its footing, because there is a lot to establish and contend with. Showrunner and creator Kagiso Lediga follows a structure that meets the expectations of a spy thriller without blurring the lines too much between fiction and non-fiction. It’s a balancing act that most spy properties don’t bother with, which firmly places many of them within the realm of fantasy. With Queen Sono, Lediga is eager to create nuanced and complicated characters and stories that are grounded by a sense of real-world ramifications. Our characters are not insulated in their own spy fantasy; they are real people who engage with the environment around them, most notably Sono, Shandu, and Fred (The Q to Queen’s Bond played by Loyiso Madinga). With the Ekaterina we delve into Bond territory, as she is the perfect Bond villain archetype. However, even she represents a type of person that does exist with some flourishes.
Moving away from the heaviness of the show, Queen Sono is a blast. It is a fast-moving, vibrant, funny and sexy drama. At the centre is the fabulous Pearl Thusi. She impresses with giving us a range of emotions throughout Queen’s journey, never playing her too soft or too jaded. She is sarcastic and arrogant, but never to the detriment of her team or mission. Queen is a refreshing take on a character we don’t often see, but when we do is a boring archetype that is often defined by her sex appeal. Thusi’s Queen is very sexy and beautiful, but she will curb stomp and outsmart you without ever needing to seduce or strip, and that is no way a jab at that method. It’s nice to see Queen treated and written no differently than the numerous male spies within this genre. Queen is a fully formed and relatable person, who is still growing as a spy and as a human.
All in all, Queen Sono is an exciting new venture for Netflix and its global expansion. One of the highlights of the show is when it makes a point in showcasing the diversity of people of Africa. Characters slip in and out of multiple languages showcasing the connection Africans have with each other no matter where they hail from. For me, this signals the potential of expanding the content we get from African storytellers. I hope to see more movies and TV from South Africa, and from the many other beautiful countries of the continent, representing and celebrating their history, culture and art, both in fiction and non-fiction. Queen Sono is the first African Original series, and it is off to a great start.
Queen Sono is available to stream on Netflix on February 28.
by Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa Abdi is a lifelong film student and aspiring film festival programmer. Her favourite genres are science-fiction, fantasy, and horror and her favourite director is Guillermo del Toro. She is madly in love with Eva Green and believes she should be cast in everything. You can follow Ferdosa on Twitter @atomicwick