A sexy, complicated hero is exactly what we need right now. 

By Brittani Samuel
Apr 17, 2020 @ 12:00 pm
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I watched season one of Netflix’s Queen Sono in one day. While consuming an entire season in one sitting isn't out of the ordinary for me personally, especially now that I am adhering to self-quarantine guidelines, everything about binging Queen Sono felt special. In just six episodes, I fell in love with a show that is equal parts buddy cop comedy, international espionage thriller, and coming of age drama. It's set in a world as rich, gorgeous, and complicated as the country in which it was created: South Africa.

Queen Sono is Netflix’s first script-to-screen series produced in Africa, a testament to the creative chops of show creator Kagiso Lediga. Those familiar with Lediga know how involved he is in his work as a writer, director, producer and actor, but in Queen Sono, he isn’t afraid to let women lead the way. The show’s titular character, Queen Sono herself, is played by one of South Africa’s brightest stars, actress, model, and entrepreneur Pearl Thusi. Her fierce foil is a military arms contractor named Ekaterina Gromova, a Russian mob princess executed with perfection by theater actress Kate Liquorish.

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Thusi and Liquorish are unbelievably striking, both in beauty and blows, and it’s thrilling to watch them go head-to-head. Their combat scenes are what the phrase “girl on girl action” actually deserves. The other women rounding out the cast are equally badass, especially veteran actress Abigail Kubeka, who plays Mazet, Queen’s hysterical and no-nonsense grandmother — one of the few people allowed to reprimand her.

If you are anything like me, one of your favorite parts about learning new characters is learning their complications. And Queen is riddled with them. She feels overshadowed by her deceased mother’s political legacy, happens to be emotionally involved with the man that sits at the right hand of Ekaterina’s criminal empire, and is at constant odds with the government agency she risks her life to protect. (Like I said, complicated.) But isn’t that true of all our best action heroines? Many of the movies I was most looking forward to viewing this year — Mulan, Black Widow, and Wonder Woman, all of which have had their release dates postponed due to COVID-19 —  star complex female characters unafraid to take big risks for the sake of their own ambition. Queen is no exception; she has no shame in using her own rules to win the game.

Queen's missions take us all across Africa. English dialogue is cut with Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, Yoruba, and more. Scenes take place in Lagos, Soweto, and Zanzibar, but all roads lead back to Queen’s home base, Johannesburg. Four years ago, I had one of the best days of my life strolling down the same Johannesburg streets that Queen storms. Shortly after ending my student exchange program at Rhodes University, a public university in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, I traveled with some friends to this glorious city, solely referred to by all my classmates as “Joburg.” Let me tell you something you should already know: This city is one of legend. The warmth, the swagger, the art that pulses through Johannesburg is unlike any I have experienced before. And upon leaving, I was instantly struck with a need to see more of what this city, this country, this continent had to create.

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There is incredible value in investing in African stories told by African people. “Controlling the narrative is really important because we’re tired of seeing, particularly, just struggle stories," Thusi told Entertainment Weekly. "Because of the layers and the specific window people have chosen to look through to view the African continent, the same message is being sent over and over again. It’s been entertaining, I’m sure, and beautiful sometimes to see, but it has not been very empowering for African people.”

When I studied abroad in South Africa, I was most impressed by the courage of the women I encountered. There were times when classes and rehearsals were literally put on pause by campus-wide protests, many of which were Black female-led outcries for the institution to address increasing incidents of sexual violence. Women were literally and figuratively on the front lines of this action. The same could be said of Queen Sono, a formidable woman leading the fight for social justice. Of course, Queen’s pain is fictionalized, but the resilience of South African women is not. In my book, they are the ultimate superheroes.

If you are or fear you have been a victim of sexual violence, please contact The National Sexual Assault Hotline at RAINN.org or 1-800-656-4673.

Queen Sono premiered on February 28, 2020 and is now streaming on Netflix.