Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Pearl Thusi plays South African spy Queen Sono in this new Netflix series.

'Queen Sono' is the Bad-Ass Women-Led Spy Thriller Like No Other: Here's What its Stars Have to Say About It.

Netflix's first African Original Series starring Pearl Thusi smashes tired stereotypes about Africa and womanhood while keeping us all in suspense.

A little over a year ago, Netflix announced that Africa's first Original Series Queen Sono was in the works. Excitement has been building for the spy thriller series ever since. Social media has been abuzz with fans putting out what their play-by-play expectations of the series are, especially for its star, Pearl Thusi. After dropping a number of enticing teasers that kept fans on the edges of their seats, and more recently the official full-length trailer for Queen Sono, the wait is finally over. The series premiered on the streaming platform yesterday.

Created by South African comedian and actor Kagiso Lediga, the Queen Sono series follows Pearl Thusi in her lead role as the main character Queen Sono, a female spy working for an the Special Operations Group (SOG) who is also trying to demystify aspects of her complicated personal life. The star-studded cast includes the likes of Vuyo Dabula, the male lead who plays Shandu, an ex-spy for the SOG, Kate Liquorish and Chiedza Mhende who play the supporting female roles of Ekaterina and Miri respectively as well as Connie Chiume, Miri's mother and Abigail Kubeka, Queen's paternal grandmother.

If you thought this was just another spy thriller series with plenty of action but not much else to it, think again. Without giving away any spoilers, we will say that the layered themes in Queen Sono will prove that the cast and crew really considered every single detail and its significance in the telling of the story.

Lediga, who is a talented producer and creator is known for also creating culturally significant comedy sketches The Pure Monate Show as well as Late Nite News with Loysia Gola. His debut film was the 2017 romantic title Catching Feelings which he then followed up with Matwetwe, a coming-of-age adventure and frenetic ode to boyhood, in 2019. Lediga could have told any story he liked but it was this particular story and its importance for Africa as a whole that really spoke to him. Speaking to OkayAfrica, he says, "I thought the spy [genre] is great because you have this super cool female agent who travels across the continent, slipping in and out of all of these powerful organisations. The result of [spies'] work is always on the news. You know what I mean?"

"I thought it was a cool way to tell the African story in a hip modern way that had like a touch of current politics."

Queen Sono is set in present-day South Africa and attempts to highlight the country's present-day politics, growing femicide crisis and gender-based violence issue in real time. "In the story, we build on South African history and I feel like it's a cool way to give the viewer a first hand account of what might've happened in South Africa, " Lediga adds.


What stands out about Queen Sono are the wide variety of female characters with unique personalities. Sometimes having several women all playing very strong characters can fuel stereotypes that all strong women have to be one way. They're seen as strong and nothing else. Queen Sono doesn't fall into that trap in its first season. This is what the South African actor Liquorish tells me when we meet up at the Houghton Hotel in Johannesburg to talk about the show. She plays Queen's rival Ekaterina Gromova, the heiress of a Russian oligarch who works hand-in-hand with Shandu to obtain as much power as she possibly can.

"It's just so wonderful to play a three-dimensional, strong-willed woman who is not going to take any shit from nobody," she says. "A woman who is going to fight for what she believes in even if it might be the wrong thing."

"It was so empowering."

Thusi agrees, "I want other women to see themselves in this. Women are the heroes of this show." She also adds that, "We are still heroes of this continent. We still nurture, we still look after, we still fight. We don't have a lot of freedoms but women still choose to be here and they still choose to be heroes in an environment that doesn't allow it." Thusi is known for her roles in several films including Kalushi, Lediga's Catching Feelings as well as the American drama series Quantico.

The synergy between Liquorish and Thusi off-screen feels just as authentic on-screen, especially during their fight scenes. "Fighting scenes are very intimate. You have to have a rhythm with each other," says Liquorish as she describes how her relationship with Thusi off-screen is a close one. "We brought each other coffee on set. Pearl did an amazing job of leading and she was just really amazing and caring about everyone."

Still from YouTube.

While character development in action-packed spy thrillers can come at the risk of portraying characters as nothing else outside of what the cutthroat world of espionage expects of them, Queen Sono is able to strike an interesting balance.

Dabula, who plays the leading male character Shandu, an ex-spy, tells OkayAfrica that, "[Shandu] really is not one dimensional at all, he is complex, you know? One moment he is commanding his space and he's powerful and one moment he doesn't know what to do and there's a sense of desperation." Dabula also speaks to the vulnerability that his character shows saying, "As an actor, it's not easy to be vulnerable. It's a very kind of challenging thing...you're working with new people that you don't know, you haven't really connected to on the same level, and then to just let go and be vulnerable at particular points. I think to jump from here to there and then have to come back and be vulnerable, for me, that was the challenging bit."

Still from Youtube.

For Mhende, who plays Miri, the director of the SOG and Queen's boss, there were challenges that she wrestled with personally before playing her character in the series. "I was scared," she says with an air of revelation. With a relatively young career in the film industry, Mhende had been unsure about stepping into the limelight especially in front of Netflix's international audience. But she soon realized that stepping into that role embodied everything she had dreamt of as a child. "And so the challenge not only came with stepping up and remembering what God gave me, but it came with, 'I wanted to do this, I have to do this, I can do this and so I will.'

"A big part of playing Miri was just showing up."

Mhende goes onto speak about what she feels fundamentally sets Queen Sono apart from other spy thrillers that have come before it. "I think the power of what mama is, is held in the story. And whether or not you like her or not, have her or don't have her, she is present." She adds that, "That's what's different about things that I've seen before where it's more masculine, more kick ass. There is the presence of seeking mother in this."

Still from YouTube.

Perhaps what is most important about this high quality production and an African first, is how having an international audience will help change how South African actors and actresses are treated by the so-called "gatekeepers" of the industry. Last year bore witness to a number of veteran actresses especially, lifting the lid on just how much they were struggling to survive amid rampant and unchecked exploitation by producers.

"This is what we can do. Pay us, respect us. We deserve it." says Thusi. She ends off by adding that, "I just hope this ignites a moment where actors can be unified enough to fight for what they deserve so that the industry can open up and allow people to come into a healthier environment."

Watch Queen Sono on Netflix here.

Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

Mmuso Maxwell Designers on Winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation

We met up with Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, the duo behind South African brand Mmuso Maxwell. We spoke about their upbringing, winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, and more.

After a two year internship with veteran South African designer David Tlale, Mmuso Maxwell was born. The brand, founded by the young duo Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, has since established a name for themselves in the African fashion industry. With successful works with A-list artists like Beyoncé — on her Black is King album — they continue to set the bar on what it means to be a successful emerging designer brand.

The duo first started to make noise in 2017, when they won the South Africa’s Fashion Week’s Sunglass Hut New Talent Search. Two years later, they came second at the 30 Under 30: The New Stars Arise Fashion Show competition held in Lagos, Nigeria. The duo walked home with $50,000, helping them establish their presence on a global landscape.

Last month, Potsane and Boko won the biggest award of their career: beating out 200 designers throughout the world, they took home the The Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, after presenting a Merino wool collection for their Autumn/Winter 2022 line.

After their big win, OkayAfrica was able to meet up with the duo and chat about their upbringing, winning the Lagerfeld Award, and more.

How would you describe your Mmuso Maxwell brand?

Maxwell Boko: I think that the perfect description of our brand is that it is inspired by African heritage, but, the most important part is that it is mixed with contemporary culture. It’s basically our point of view of our heritage. We’re modern young people who are living with technology and science, and are influenced by those things. So even if it’s still our African heritage, it’s still our own interpretation.

Mmuso Potsane: Our brand is a modern interpretation of who an African woman is. Our brand sees itself as a global brand, and we do not want to limit it to look like an ordinary African brand, but it is positioned to be like a global brand, while maintaining our African roots, interpretations and experiences.

How did the collaboration between the both of you start?

Potsane: We met during the internship from 2015-2017. At the end of the internship, we decided to bring our pieces together to make one collection because we had similar aesthetics. From there, we just decided to continue onwards as a brand.

That’s interesting. You know, the fashion industry can most times be more competition than collaboration. How are you navigating the times you might have contrasting ideas?

Boko: I think that the reason why we joined forces together is because we had similar tastes in general. What has worked for us over the five years is that we’re not dramatic about our approach to things. It’s not “this or nothing." We’re always open to each other's critiques. We also do not question our individual strengths at all.

Potsane: Yeah, we’ve sort of found a way to agree to disagree. We have somehow found a way to come together to have one vision and objection. So for us, if any of us feels strongly about something, we just give it a chance to see how it plays out. If it doesn’t, we find a way to navigate it.

Mmuso Maxwell designers with Saul Nash

Saul Nash, winner of the International Woolmark Prize, and Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko of Mmuso Maxwell, winners of the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, celebrate with models wearing their designs.

Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

How about winning the Woolmark Karl Lagerfeld Innovation Award? How did that happen?

Boko: I mean, we applied, even though I said to Mmuso that Woolmark is something that’ll happen to us, maybe two, three years down the line, and that’s because it’s generally for established designers. I always figured that it’ll happen at a later date for us. So when they reached us to inform us that we were finalists, I thought, “that’s crazy.”

When I saw the other finalists, I thought that there was no chance to win; But as we progressed in the program, I saw why it was the right time for us. It helped us as a brand in terms of making our products. The eight months were very challenging, but the thing that I enjoyed the most was working with local artisans. I think that it’s even one of the reasons we won.

And just on the side, I think it’s very hard for us to see from inside how much of a big deal winning the award is. It’s always our loyal people who help us see and understand it.

How has winning this prize influenced your brand? I mean, how important do you think platforms like this are?

Potsane: I think it’s important because it allows you access to spaces in the industry that are very out of reach for a lot of African brands. It influences and helps us to think more/differently, and just on that level, play by the rules. You’re no longer thinking locally, but internationally. It’s made us more serious about our business and how to run it. People take your work more seriously, so that makes you take it more seriously too.

In terms of funding, it’s something that’s been a struggle. I mean, as a designer, you have to showcase your work and that requires a lot of money for stuff like shows, showrooms, and so on. With the help that we’re getting from the people like Birimian — some sort of investment group for African brands — it helps you ease the stress this induces.

And what are some of the challenges you’ve faced during this? Are there ways you’re now navigating it?

Boko: When we started our brand, there was no initial capital for us to start our brand. But we got a little support, and that made our next challenge be sustaining our coming collections; but recently, our major challenge has been fabric sourcing and production. There are no facilities to produce the quality we aspire to.

Potsane: To navigate these challenges, we really just go with it one step at a time, and also speak with those who can assist with things like this, such as Birimian. In terms of production, we have to come to a compromise to ensure getting the quality we want.

You're a sustainable brand. What are some of the practices you’re doing that makes it sustainable?

Potsane: We utilize local crafts and local artisans. It’s something we’ve always been passionate about since we started our brand. We use homegrown yarns for production, and working with artisans makes us follow the route of slow fashion.

Boko: We’ve always had an affinity for natural fibers since we started. As an African creative, you’re inherently sustainable because we’re not prone to waste. It’s not something we can afford. When we buy fabrics, we buy exactly what we need, and all the things we’ve done so far have been in pre-orders. We do not produce with hopes that someone will buy what we’ve made. All pieces go to our clients.

Are there creatives that inspire the work that you do?

Potsane: The people that inspire our brand, we already currently work with. So people like Tatenda Chidora, a photographer. We also love Tony Gum. She’s an amazing artist. Same as Chloe Andrea and Daniel Obasi. We totally love these people, and are highly inspired by them.

News Brief
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for MRC)

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Film poster courtesy of EGM NY Management

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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.

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