As we wrap up 2019, we look at the top streaming shows from Africa and its diaspora that made waves internationally this year.
The River (Telenovela)
1Magic’s thrill-a-minute telenovela The River sees two different but interdependent worlds collide in spectacular fashion. One side of the river is home to exquisite mansions populated by society’s upper crust, who will go to any lengths to maintain their wealth; the other by those who have little to show for their hard work.
The River bagged home 11 golden horns, including Best Telenovela at the 2019 Saftas. Just be warned: the body count is high in this one, so don’t get too attached to anyone…
This South African hit show is also nominated as Best Telenovela at the 2019 International Emmy Awards.
Supa Modo ( Superhero Film)
Jo (Stycie Waweru) is a witty nine-year-old obsessed with Jackie Chan movies. She’s also terminally ill. When she is taken back to her rural village to live out the rest of her short life, her only comfort is her dream of being a superhero – a dream her rebellious teenage sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia), overprotective mother Kathryn (Marrianne Nungo) and the entire village of Maweni think they can fulfill.
Ramy Hassan (stand-up comedian Ramy Youssef) is a first generation Egyptian-American in politically-divided New Jersey, where he’s caught between a Muslim community that thinks life is a moral test and a millennial generation that thinks life has no consequences.
The breakout diaspora series ends in Egypt, but as Youssef says, “There’s this narrative that comes from certain places in America: ‘Go back where you came from; that’s where you belong.’ Sometimes you have this idea of, you know, ‘What if I went back there? Everything would make sense.’ And it doesn’t.”
Stroop (Wildlife doccie)
Stroop: Journey into the Rhino Horn War is a gripping wildlife crime thriller of a documentary that takes the viewer on a rollercoaster ride between Africa and Asia.
Two first-time filmmakers, award-winning editor Susan Scott (The Last Lions) and 50/50 presenter Bonné de Bod, embed themselves on the frontlines of the rhino poaching crisis, where they are given exclusive access to the war as it unfolds on the ground.
Carving out six months for the project, the two women quickly find themselves immersed in a world far larger and more dangerous than they had imagined, only emerging from their odyssey four years later.
The show won Best of Festival, The International Wildlife Film Festival 2019.
Everything Must Fall (Doccie)
Directed by Rehad Desai, who won the International Emmy Award for Best Documentary for Miners Shot Down, Everything Must Fall is an unflinching look at the #FeesMustFall student movement that burst onto the South African political landscape in 2015 as a protest over the cost of education.
The story is told by four student leaders at Wits University and their Vice Chancellor, Adam Habib, a left-wing, former anti-apartheid student activist. When Habib’s efforts to contain the protest fail, he brings 1 000 police onto campus, with dire consequences for the young leaders…
The show won The Vaclav Havel Award, One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, 2019 and the Best Documentary & Best Documentary Director, SAFTAs, 2019.
The Herd (Drama Series)
Twenty-eight years ago, Bhekisizwe Mthethwa (Sello Maake Ka Ncube) was fired from his job at a butchery due to his leg injury. With no job and a hungry wife and baby, Bheki sought out the guidance of the local witch, MaMngadi (Winnie Ntshaba), who promised him a bright future if he was willing to make a great sacrifice.
When we meet Bheki in the present, he’s married to MaMngadi, with three more children, Muzi (Sparky Xulu), Nkosana (Paballo Mavundla) and Dumazile (Cindy Mahlangu).
But when Bheki must choose a successor to his cattle business, his big sacrifice still weighs heavily on his soul, even as his children go into battle over what each believes to be rightfully theirs.
The show won Jury’s Special Prize, Seoul International Drama Awards, 2019.
The Girl From St Agnes
Of course, international awards aren’t the holy grail for African productions: local audiences are. 2019 has seen a number of landmark breakthroughs in that regard, from Showmax’s second Original, the boarding school murder mystery The Girl From St Agnes.
Based on Deon Meyer’s crime novel of the same title, this is the second time his work has been adapted for mainstream TV. In 2016, Cape Town, a six-part series based on Meyer’s novel, ‘Dead Before Dying’, aired in SA.
The series explores the world of organised crime, involving diamond smuggling, black rhinos and terrorism in Cape Town and features Sisanda Henna, Thapelo Mokoena, James Alexander, Sandi Schultz and Roland Marais.