Blood & Water: Authentically South African?
After much contemplation, not because I had anything better to do but rather deciding whether this series would be worth my time, I decided to go ahead and press play on the pilot episode of the show this weekend. I can proudly report back that we finished the season in two days, not a biggie, it only has six 45-minute episodes.
This is the second African Original Series released on Netflix, its predecessor being 'Queen Sono' which has released world wide. As Africans, we were undoubtedly excited and intrigued as to what this series would bring to the table, in promoting and representing local arts & culture.
Netflix’s second African Original Series Blood and Water is written and directed by Nosipho Dumisa, with Daryne Joshua and Travis Taute as co-directors and writers, and is produced by Gambit films.
Meet the SA Cast
The young and vibrant actors and actresses in the movie are some of South Africa's newest emerging talents, while others parts of the cast is filled with seasoned talent and recognisable faces.
The protagonist is 16-year-old Puleng Khumalo who is portrayed by Ama Qamata. In the series Puleng is an intelligent, daring and impulsive teen who sets on a mission to find her abducted long-lost sister, in an attempt to end her and her families worry.
We follow her as she goes through typical adolescent experiences, in the midst of her investigation.
The teenage experiences we are taken through can be somewhat compared to the 'Americanised' version of adolescence similar to those seen in series like Gossip Girl, among others. IndieWire explains it as: "It has “Euphoria” aspirations, but instead settles for the after school special-esque melodrama of Beverly Hills and 90210..."
Khosi Ngema plays the role of Puleng's abducted sister - Fikile 'Fiks' Bhele. She is the star swimmer of the school and popular rich-girl at Parkhurst. Fikile is smart, well-liked while also being highly judged. She is criticised for being rich and talentless. She struggles to prove her achievements and works hard to show her critics that she is more than just a pretty face.
Gail Mabalane (Thandeka Khumalo) plays Puleng's mother in the series. We are introduced to her as she celebrates her missing daughter's birthday, which becomes evident this is a yearly occurrence, even in her absence. It becomes clear in the opening sequence that both Puleng and her brother Siya (Odwa Gwanya) have grown wary of this.
As the six episode series plays out, we see Thandeka struggle daily with for filling her role as a mother and wife, as she tries to deal with her loss.
At times disturbing, Mabalane offers a strong and impactful performance, making her emotions raw and tangible to her audiences.
Thabang Molaba acts the role of KB (Karabo Molapo). KB is an aspiring rapper, one of Fikile’s close friend's and Puleng’s love interest in the series. KB is Thabang’s first role on television.
Dillon Windvogel plays Wade Daniels. His role isn't what one would refer to as 'important' but on that point without him the series would not be same. Wade is the typical 'sweetheart good-guy' who gets his feeling hurt by being friend zoned by a girl he has a crush on - this being Puleng. She leans on him for support in unwinding her investigation but in the process a love triangle develops between herself, Wade and KB.
Wade is also the one character that ultimately reveals the truths about the investigation. He is also my FAVOURITE character and brings humour to the scenes while also being the only one who has a relatable South African accent. While researching more on these characters, I found out that he was also once a latin dancer, no wonder I had such a liking towards him.
My Feelings, Remarks and Critique
Being a born and bred South African from Johannesburg, I love everything our country has to offer. I am personally a fan of shows like The OC, Gossip Girl, 90210 and similar. I watch these shows as a way to escape and almost imagine what the 'outside' world is like.
Watching these shows does not mean I can relate to them or necessarily want a life like that, but it's all part of entertainment. Now this series, while having all the right ingredients for an intriguing drama, the way the culture and South Africanism was portrayed, slightly lost me.
The inclusion of both the 'American way' and 'South African way' of doing things left me feeling confused. Do we need to Americanise our shows in order to appeal to a greater audience? Perhaps this is the case. I felt like the school culture could have been portrayed a lot better, a lot more authentically. Instead of making Parkhurst the equivalent of a Yale University, why not make it similar to that of a Crawford or Maragon school - being upper class and 'rich'.
Strictly speaking to the plot - it is dramatic, mysterious, has the rich kid debauchery element while being smouldering. The story kept me wanting more, and the only thing that made press 'continue watching' every time.
Cinematography, dialogue and music was all on point. I really appreciated the way they used SA house music in both the 'party' and suspense-filled scenes. An advantage they utilised on was having Cape Town be the back drop of the series. Playing on the city's splendor, plush tourist spots which has been filmed in a way that most of the world rarely gets to see of an African country.
But then again, according to IndieWire "It captures an Africa that might be a shock to some audiences in the West, who are used to very specific, limited depictions of the continent and its people," a point I tend to agree with.
In conclusion - I think the series being a teen drama created entirely by African movie makers, with an African cast on a Netflix budget, will prove fruitful in the short-term. It is somewhat of a novelty now, however, in the long run, it will need to rely heavily on its landmark release to stay relevant in a world that is currently being flooded with online and streaming content.
The new Netflix series ends on a cliffhanger, so logically, and hopefully for its fans, will have a second season.
Rated 3/5 stars