COSMO cover girl, Pearl Thusi is owning her power as the lead in Africa’s first-ever Netflix Original series, Queen Sono. Here she talks to COSMO deputy editor Noxolo Mafu about creating a ground-breaking and inclusive entertainment industry.
In true Mama Pantha style, the Queen Sono star insisted that the pages of the magazine feature rising stars in the local entertainment industry. ‘I am in a different stage of my career,’ she says as she changes into her next outfit. ‘I want to use historic moments like this to pay it forward.’
The angle for Pearl’s cover shoot – which aims to give exposure to new talent – echoes the popular #OpenUpTheIndustry conversation that surfaced in 2018. Twitter users came together to call out the entertainment industry for not being inclusive enough. The criticism suggested that the same seasoned actors and actresses were getting all the big roles or jobs, leaving very little room for young talent to emerge.
The debate was met with mixed emotions at the time, as well-known actors felt like they were getting the middle finger, while Twitter users felt unheard, frustrated and in need of fundamental change in the industry. Actors such as Thapelo Mokoena and DJ Shimza hosted workshops for aspiring actors and DJs on how best to prep for the entertainment world.
‘It’s important for me to have a healthy conversation focused on creating an industry that flourishes financially – for everyone from actors to technical agents. It’s hard to share what we are doing to create a more sustainable industry because if we shout out about it, we are not being authentic,’ Pearl says as she kicks off a roundtable conversation with her shoot co-stars, South Africa’s finest up-and-coming screen queens.
Shonisani Masutha is the first African actress to act in a Bollywood series, Mehek, and she has starred in SABC2’s Muvhango, Mzansi Magic’s Ring Of Lies and the US series Royal Pains.
‘We need to spend more time developing the skills of our writers, actresses and directors way before production,’ Shonisani said, ‘Often, production can feel very rushed. Having time to further develop your craft is important.’
Mamarumo Marokane, 23, is a firecracker actress who featured in MTV’s Shuga and Shadow.
‘If there were more structure and legislation regarding the terms of our employment, perhaps we could openly support teach other when contracts are not fair, without fear of burning bridges in the industry,’ Mamarumo said.
Twenty-three-year old Kuhle Adams, who was crowned SABC 3’s Presenter Search winner in 2019, is now a presenter on Expresso.
‘We need to expand the opportunities for people to enter the industry,’ Kuhle said, ‘I went through two presenter searches because I knew it was my only hope. If we open up the points of entry, we could enjoy so much talent in the industry.’
And 21-year-old Ama Qamata, who plays the lead role in Netflix’s South African produced Blood & Water (expected to be released this year), has also starred in local drama series Rhythm City and My Perfect Family.
‘There is a culture of underpaying young talent because opportunities are so limited,’ Ama said, ‘We, as the new actors and actresses, need to take a stand against this to create a sustainable and fair industry – even for the people who are going to follow after us.’
It’s lunchtime and the conversation is flowing as the girls share stories of learning, joy, fear, survival and the pursuit for equal pay and standardised conditions for all. It is clear that there is a real hunger for support and guidance in the entertainment industry. ‘We need to create a sustainable and attractive space – not just for ourselves but for the young people coming up after us,’ says Ama.
There are tears and laughter as each actress shares her journey and hustle to pursue her dreams. ‘I am getting so emotional – for the first time I feel like someone understands the difficulties in this industry,’ says Shonisani.
‘It is so easy to feel alone.’ Pearl listens attentively, slipping into the older-sister role as she shares her own experiences of growth during the last decade. ‘I want to evolve, inspire, teach and grow,’ she says. ‘I find that younger people are often undermined, and I do not want to be a part of that.’ The girls reflect on the lives of artists such as Miriam Makeba, who led the way and made sacrifices so that future artists could enjoy the freedom to create and perform.
When asked what an inclusive entertainment industry would look like for each actress, the overarching themes are the request for unity, standardised employment structures and equal pay.
‘I have been where they are now – when you are young and trying to find yourself,’ Pearl says. ‘I don’t feel older, but I have a lot of experience and it’s my duty to share. I am embracing that.’
The Queen Sono star reflects on the unwavering support and girl-gang love she got from industry heavyweights such as Basetsana Kumalo and Terry Pheto at the beginning of her career. ‘These women wanted me to win, and I was lucky to have that kind of support,’ she says. She also remembers the troubles she had at the beginning – some people saw her success as a ‘problem’.
‘Admittedly, I have had concerns that I may reach “has-been” status, but you just have to be comfortable with where you are. There are always going to be fresh people coming in. The most important thing is to offer support and remember, “Indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili [the journey ahead is guided by those who have travelled it before].”’
Queen Sono will be released on Netflix on 28 February.
To read more on Pearl Thusi, pick up our March 2020 issue, on newsstands on 24 February, or click here to subscribe.
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