Popular
Photo by Neo Baepi.

Nosipho Dumisa pictured above during filming of 'Blood & Water'.

In Conversation with Nosipho Dumisa: 'Everyone can relate to the idea of losing someone they love.'

We spoke with award-winning director Nosipho Dumisa about 'Blood & Water'—the most successful Netflix African Original Series to date.

Blood & Water premiered on Netflix on May 20th and left fans in an uproar on social media. The teen-led drama focuses on Puleng Khumalo (Ama Qamata), a young girl who transfers to Parkhurst College, a fictional take on South Africa's expensive private schools, to find her missing sister. And while the series spotlights human trafficking and sub-themes of loss and grief, it is the high school drama surrounding the "popular" kids, heartthrob jocks and risqué house parties that had everyone reminiscing on their own eventful high school days. Who can forget how social media collectively mourned when Wade Daniels (Dillon Windvogel), the proverbial "nice guy", failed to win the heart of his crush?

It's an African Original Series that seems to have resonated with audiences across the world far better than its spy-thriller predecessor Queen Sono. Just three days after its premiere, the show took the number-one spot in South Africa, France, the Bahamas, Libya, Jamaica, Trinidad, Jamaica and Kenya and became the first-ever South African show to be ranked first in the USA. Produced by Gambit Films with a fresh-faced and talented cast in addition to being led by one of South Africa's top directors, Nosipho Dumisa, it's hardly surprising that Blood & Water's successful first season has left fans wanting more.

And so we caught up with the award-winning Dumisa to reflect on the production's massive success, the lessons learnt along the way and how it feels to be the Black woman director that made it happen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Blood & Water was trending on Netflix at the number one spot in 10 countries, something that's never happened for any African Original Series. How did that win feel for you?

When we created Blood & Water, we were really hopeful that it would resonate with a lot of the world. We definitely wanted it to resonate with South Africans and Africans. I think the fact that it reached number one in South Africa and countries like and Nigeria, was such a big deal for me. That was like a dream come true and it felt like a blessing. It still feels like a blessing. I get giddy every time I think about it.

What would you say has made this teen-led drama a production that's resonated with so many people across the world not just here in South Africa?

We haven't had many young adult series being told with such a diverse cast. Especially, where people of colour are living in a prestigious world. I think we haven't had that many. So I think people definitely found that exciting. That was at least something that made people think, "I want to watch it." And then I think once you begin to watch it the story itself is a story that resonates with a lot of people.

"Everyone can relate to the idea of losing someone that they love."

In some way or the other a lot of us have suffered trauma and I think when we conceived Blood & Water, the statistic was something like "every five hours a child goes missing in South Africa." That is an insane statistic. And that tells you how many people have had to deal with something like this. So I think generally the world and South Africans are ready to be able to experience a new African narrative.

Blood & Water has a fresh-faced cast with some young individuals for whom this was their first big break. What do you think are some of the lessons that the industry can take from that?

I think it's always story-specific. With Blood & Water being a young adult series, it was such a great opportunity to be able to know that I need to find new faces to cast. That's the nature of the story in that it requires young people. We were intentional about wanting to do that while also balancing them up with veterans who could support them and help grow their skills. And listen, they didn't really need a lot of help if I'm being honest. These guys knew what they were doing. Some had done one or two projects before, but for Khosi Ngema who plays Fikile Bhele, this was her first project ever. She did an astounding job.

I think as far as the industry goes, speaking from my experience, I create and write with the purpose of telling a story. People will ask me, "So who do you think you're going to cast in this?" And usually I'll say, "I don't know, I must still do auditions." I believe that it's always about the right actor fitting the right role. Sometimes that will be an actor everyone knows, and I know that it's sometimes difficult for people to understand. But I think it's also okay for us to celebrate our stars who have worked hard to be in the spaces that they are in whilst also allowing for the opening of the industry to new actors as well.

Ama Qamata and Nosipho Dumisa pictured above.Photo by Tegan Smith.

The South African television and film industry receives flak about the lacklustre marketing of films. Would you say that working with Netflix has allowed productions to have much better marketing than we often see in the local industry?

Yeah. I think that the challenge of working in the industry is, of course, budgetary. I think that working locally just often means that you put it all out there to create the show and it takes everything to do that. Often there's very little left over to be able to have a campaign. And there's very little funding towards creating campaigns around getting people to know about the production. So often it's a hit or miss.

Netflix's reach is stupendous. They are in 190 countries, as far as I'm aware. I think it's over 180 million subscribers. And of course they really understood the young adult space and how to reach that audience. It was really refreshing as a creative, this time around, to not have to think around a campaign at all. It was someone else's job which is great because I'm not a marketing person.

One of the common criticisms about Blood & Water was that some of the portrayals were unrealistic in terms of the ordinary South African teenager. How did you balance the realities that the production is founded on with the fictional storyline?

I think that as a creative, as a storyteller, you're often trying to tell a story with characters that are authentic, that are believable, and you try to heighten the stakes for the characters. A story is no good if everyone's just going along life like everything's fine. You've got to throw obstacles at your characters, and you've got to set them up in order to be able to fail as well as succeed. And that's essentially what the goal was with Blood & Water, to build it in an aspirational way. To put these characters in a world that was a breaking of stereotypes––breaking what we've come to know as "this what it is to be South African."

"The truth is there is no one experience that's the same for everyone."

There are plenty of private schools in the country who have a lot of kids of colour who are having a very different experience to a kid who might be living in a different situation. And one of our writers was actually someone who went to one of these private schools. So we really drew a lot from research and speaking to kids who we knew who went to private schools. It's important for us as storytellers to not only be led by life, but put out our dreams of what life could be out there.

Nosipho Dumisa pictured above.Nosipho Dumisa pictured above.Photo by Mosa Hlophe.

What has Blood & Water meant to you specifically as a Black woman director in the industry?

This might be the best question I've ever been asked. And I don't know the answer because I think I'm still processing what this means to me. I think every day there's a new revelation of what this means. When I set out to enter this film industry, I set out by accident at the time. I thought that I was going to be an actor. I really wanted to do that. I had seen Black women on screen as actors but I hadn't heard of Black women as directors. And of course we know that there are plenty, but it was not a narrative that was told and celebrated often.

I had to educate myself in that, and I stumbled into it. I stumbled into that role whilst I was still a film student, and began to realize that I have a place in that role. And I have a place in this industry in this way. So I wanted to be able to tell stories to reach the world, but it's a journey that you're constantly having to discover the new revelation of your purpose in that space. For me, I take this space as a place to tell stories and do my job as well as I can. Hopefully, that sets the next person up to be able to enter the space a little bit easier.

This may be premature, but can fans expect Blood & Water to come back for a second season?

I can neither confirm nor deny. I'm kidding. Honestly, the answer is that I do not know for a fact that Blood & Water will come back for a second season. But what I can say is that should there be another season, I hope that we will improve on what we've already done. And that we will create space for more new actors, more new voices to enter the brand. And musicians too. I think music is such a big part of the series that we will create more space for new artists who the continent and the world may not know. I think there's certainly hope.

Sports
Photo by David Mesfin

Africans Are Taking Surfing Back

We sat down with Ethiopia-American director David Mesfin to discuss the importance of knowing where you come from, and his upcoming surf doc 'Wade In The Water'

For so long, Black and African communities have been made to believe that the water was our enemy, often citing the traumatic history of African slaves drowning at sea during the Atlantic Slave Trade. But, what certain people with certain agendas failed to add was the fact that the slaves had such a powerful understanding of the ocean that slave owners began to torture them into fearing the thought of it.

Keep reading...Show less
Featured
Photo by Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images

8 Queer-Owned African Fashion Brands to Check Out For Pride

In honor of pride month, we highlight eight African queer fashion designers and brands putting queer stories on the global map through fashion.

In the last decade, there have been an emergent of fashion designers who aren’t just queer but have aligned their fashion vision with their identity, creating demystifying collections and criss-crossing their concepts and ideologies to represent the inscape of non-conformity, fluidity, queerness and androgyny — whilst maintaining a quick balance with their cultural roots. Despite the numerous fabric experimentations and collections, these designers never forget to tell stories that align with them, especially those that resonate with queer people in queer unfriendly countries.

In honor of pride month, OkayAfrica highlights 8 African queer fashion designers and brands putting queer stories on the global map through fashion.

Rich Mnisi

South African designer Rich Mnisi is part of a new wave of designers putting African stories on the global map. Founded in 2015, the brand Rich Mnisi is immersed at offering fluid expression to gender, celebrating youthful excellence and exploring extremist design elements with minimalist cultural tailoring. For pride month, the brand released a limited edition capsule titled “Out." The capsule visualizes a fine-line between elegance and fluidity whilst boldly emphasizing on the act of struggle and resilience as an outfit.

Udiahgebi

For a fashion brand like Udiahgebi, identity is very important. And offering that form of visibility to femme queer Nigerians is not just a form of visual activism but a detailed story of essence. The brand was founded by Emerie Udiahgebi, a gender non-forming fashion designer who wanted to give queer, non-binary and non-conforming individuals more options to express themselves fashionably. Udiahgebi’s fashion concept is extremely bold, fierce, and unconventional.

Lagos Space Programme

Designer Adeju Thompson fuses traditionalist concepts with genderless possibilities. Founded in 2018, Lagos Space Programme is a gender-neutral fashion brand that enveloped aesthetic designs using local craftsmanship. The brand appreciates West African unique fabric and communicates compelling stories of identity, gender and queerness — a ideology that has garnered them not just audience but earned them a spot at the LVMH prize.

Muyishime

Patrick Muyishime is a fashion innovator. Not only does he know how to source excellent fabrics but his designs are authentically vibrant. Founded in 2016, Muyishime is a Kenyan fashion label that introduces conversations surrounding androgynous and explores aesthetically fabric inventions that commands fluidity, feminine wiles and constructive elegance.

Bola Yahaya

Founded in 2019, Bola Taofeek Yahaya's fashion label aligns thought provoking pieces that elevate the discusses around queer representation, sexuality and feminity. The brands merges sustainability and explore eccentric fabric experimentations.

Nao Serati

Founded by South African designer Nao Serati Mofammere in 2014, the fashion brand Nao Serati explores the versatility of gender and the fine margin of sexuality whilst finding its balance with their South African heritage. Mofammere wants his brand to explore masculinity and the different ways it takes to wear a fragile look.

Vangei

Lolu Vangei has different recipes to gender fluidity and she has used fashion to express that. Founded in 2018, Vangei is a fashion label that unites modern ideology of afro-centricism to produce pieces that dismantle cliched ideas about gender.

Mayetobs

There is no explaining the sort of talent Emmanuel Tobiloba possesses. Founded in 2020, Mayetobs' eccentric approach in reinstating androgynous norms is interesting. From oversized pants that speaks of fabric maximalism to fast flowing robes, the fashion brand is an ode to redefining modern masculinity.

Music
(YouTube)

The 6 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Kizz Daniel, Tekno, Focalistic, Ckay, Davido, Mayorkun and more.

Every week, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

Keep reading...Show less
Music
(Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images for Coachella)

Black Coffee & Tresor’s Work On Drake’s New Album Speaks to the Rise of South African Music

Unlike the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther: The Album or Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift album which had hints of South African flavours on them, Honestly, Nevermind is imbued with them.

On the 16th of June, news that rap superstar Drakewas dropping a surprise album first hit the internet. As with any of his releases, the announcement sent people into a frenzy. Leading up to the drop, the OVO camp, as part of a subtle and timely album rollout, put out a track list. Included in it as one of the album’s executive producers was South African super producer, DJ and artist Black Coffee. His name was listed amongst Drake’s regular collaborators and business partners, Noah 40 Shebib, Oliver El-Khatib and Noel Cadastre.

The two artists have previously collaborated on the remake of Black Coffee’s seminal 2009 hit “Superman.” Drake’s take on the instrumental and composition, “Get It Together,” was released almost a decade later on his 2017 playlist More Life. When the song dropped, the reviews and public reactions were split because of the original vocalist Bucie being replaced by then-burgeoning British singer Jorja Smith.

Fast forward to 2022, Black Coffee has a ‘Best Dance/Electronic’ Grammy award for his 2021 album Subconsciously, and has played at the biggest stages across the globe. It then shouldn’t come as a surprise that when putting together his experimental dance album, Drake tapped the South African producer to oversee and shape the sonic and creative direction of the album.

Keep reading...Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

Afro-Colombian Francia Marquez's Ascendance Is Historic

The single mother and former cleaner captured many as they voted her and President-elect Gustavo Petro in to redirect the South American nation's path.

Magixx Wants to Speak for a New Generation of Nigerians

The Mavin Records signee talks to us about his come-up, signing to Mavin Records and his debut self-titled EP.

Black Coffee Brings South African Magic to Drake's New Album, 'Honestly, Nevermind'

The star South African DJ, alongside his son Esona Tyolo and singer Tresor, give Honestly, Nevermind that classic South African house music flair.

The 5 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Black Coffee x Drake, Ladipoe, Ayra Starr x Sun-El Musician, Gyakie and Tay Iwar.

popular.

Watch: Kendrick Lamar Celebrates His Birthday With A Love Letter To Ghana

The American rapper teamed up with Spotify to document his recent and first trip to the West African country.