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The ugly side of beauty is exposed in ‘Savage Beauty’

Rosemary Zimu is the lead in Savage Beauty

Rosemary Zimu is the lead in Savage Beauty

Published May 8, 2022

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With an A-list cast, a gripping narrative and a stellar Quizzical Pictures creative team, Netflix’s African series, “Savage Beauty” has hit written all over it.

And I have no doubt that the show will be trending when it debuts on the streaming platform on Thursday.

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Ahead of the premiere, I scored an interview with Rosemary Zimu, Nthati Moshesh and John Ncamane, who shed light on their characters’ conflicts.

To provide some context, the premise centres on Zinhle Manzini (Zimu), who is introduced as the new face of Bhengu Beauty in a PR campaign that goes horribly wrong.

But the influential Bhengus are nothing if not resourceful. And Grace Bhengu (Moshesh) is a matriarch who detests negative publicity. She is all about maintaining the perfect public image.

And Don Bhengu (Dumisani Mbebe) shares his wife’s ruthless streak, which leaves his second wife Thando (Angela Sithole) struggling to find her place – and voice – in the family.

Meanwhile, Don’s daughter Linda (Nambitha Ben-Mazwi), from another relationship, and his son Phila (Jesse Suntele) have their eye on the CEO chair. Ndu (Oros Mampofu), Don’s youngest son, is more idealistic than his siblings when it comes to the family business.

Unbeknown to the Bhengus, they’ve invited an enemy into their empire – Zinhle wants justice for Don and Grace’s hand in the death of her sister. And she has her brother helping her take them down. Her story goes back 15 years when they were homeless.

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What starts out as a honourable cause soon goes pear-shaped as Zinhle crosses lines without realising it.

Zimu admitted: “She did not realise when she was starting to lose herself, until the end. And I think, for her, instead of becoming the Bhengus being something that will stop her from doing what she is doing, the only thing that could have gotten in the way was her love interest more than anything.”

Nthati Moshesh as Grace Bhengu.

If you thought Moshesh was a revelation on “Isono”, think again.

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I told the veteran actress that, just from watching her character, even I was afraid to mess with Grace. She chuckled.

While powerful, though, there are slivers of vulnerability that come through.

Moshesh admitted: “While filming, I didn’t quite see the vulnerability of Grace. But the feedback has been that, ‘You have brought a vulnerability to her’. And I like that.

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“I always struggle with she’s a powerful woman, she’s a strong woman. We give labels to women. And, in a way, we are stripping away the feminity.”

She continued: “I don’t think I’ve played a role where she is so in love with her husband to the extent that that love blinds her. So her love then starts becoming a weakness and a burden because she almost loses sight of the bigger picture.

“She then starts becoming obsessed with Don Bhengu’s lack of love for her. How do women cope when they are in a loveless marriage? And yet, she’s the mastermind behind the empire. The role of a woman behind a successful man is explored and I really loved that challenge.”

There are many layers to each and every character.

As John, Ncamane finds himself nursing much regret and guilt as his unrequited love story snowballs into a PR catastrophe and, in so doing, he realises an ugly truth.

He explained: “It was quite challenging to play Calvin. It was enjoyable as well. I mean we have all been in a place where we were between a rock and a hard place, I’m sure, but nothing to this extent.

“I needed to find what his main goal was. That was what I needed to firstly identify. What was he willing to give up for affection and love. Everything else became secondary.

“So you have this tug-of-war. He is not a robot. He wants love. He feels the weight of all the things he has done.”

While watching the series, I found myself, ironically, resenting the protagonist more and more.

When I mentioned it to Zimu, she confirmed: “When the writer Lebogang (Mogashoa) and I started talking about her, we said, they need to love to hate her. And it's going to be hard, I know.

“Now I’m going to know that I played her so well. She was not out there to be loved. And if you are seeing that, then I’ve done my job.”

Before my time was up, I asked the cast for a comment on the series touching on colourism.

Moshesh responded: “Also, just the whole concept around beauty. I mean, ‘Savage beauty, what a title? I think we get turned on by the title. The savagery to beauty. There is a light and dark side to beauty. The beauty industry is so complex.

“Back in the 80s what was considered beauty, in this century, it is something else. It is almost like what is going to be the next definition of beauty?”

“Savage Beauty” will definitely be a conversation starter as it delves into various issues, including sugar babies, polygamy, drugs and sexuality.

“Savage Beauty” will be available on Netflix from May 12.

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