We are days away from the premiere of Showmax’s original series, “Spinners”.
And, unless you’ve been living under a rock (or on another planet), it would have been difficult to miss all the hype around the series.
At the moment, South African storytelling is at its pinnacle. Aside from the proliferation of homegrown content in film and TV, the writers are pushing the boundaries by not only tapping into stories that are shifting perceptions of long-held stereotypes but also drifting towards heartfelt township tales.
Since we are a rainbow nation, this kind of enlightenment not only helps the nation grow in leaps and bounds when it comes to cross-cultures but also provides escapism.
I got to watch the first episode of “Spinners” at the 11th kykNET Silverskerm Film Festival in Cape Town. I was blown away by the script, cast and the production value.
This series ticks many boxes as it homes in on the underground car culture. Now if you believe everything on the internet, this form of motorsport was popularised in Soweto in the late 1980s.
But I suspect that it’s something that has been prevalent in many townships and communities spread around Mzansi.
In a recent press release, DJ Ready D, wearing the hat of a music supervisor for the series, explained the spinning culture perfectly.
He said: “Through the dark days of apartheid, spinning was probably one of the greatest forms of defiance. It was an opportunity for people to come together socially as well.
“When I was a little boy, I used to go to places like Strandfontein Pavilion, and another place out in Athlone. In Cape Town, we used to call it ‘Pop-a-wheelie’.
“Right in the heart of apartheid, 1 000 to 3 000 people came together to buy Gatsby's, with all these cars busy spinning and pumping the wheelies and all these things.
“Not even the cops could break up the ‘Pop-a-wheelie’ gathering. The cops would rock up, but you’re not going to move the people, you know…
“I don’t think that we ever knew that it would reach this point: where people will actually be interested in turning it into a series and big commercial brands like Red Bull would latch onto it, with their Shay'Imoto spinning battles.
“With youth culture, on a grassroots level, spinning is one of the biggest movements right now – not just in Cape Town, but across the country as well.”
At the heart of this series is Ethan (Cantona James), a 17-year-old teenager and his younger brother (played by Jihaad Otto) from the Cape Flats.
Growing up in a community synonymous with gang violence, poverty and drug abuse, Ethan’s story is tragic as he is a victim of his environment.
Abandoned by a drug-addict mother, Ethan has had to abandon his education to ensure there is food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Thrust into adulthood, Ethan learned to hustle from an early age. This led him to land a job as a driver for local gang leader Damian (Elton Landrew). Hercules (Brendon Daniels) is Damian’s trusted righthand.
Ethan is street-smart; he’s got great gut instincts. He is also kind-hearted, helping neighbours close to him in the indigent community when the need arises.
Since the nature of his job requires him to be ready at the drop of a hat for those drug deals and hits on rival gangs, Ethan relies on a trusted neighbour to help babysit his brother.
While Ethan appears to have the situation under control, everything changes when an innocent teenager with Down syndrome becomes collateral damage in Damian’s war with a rival gang.
Wracked with guilt, Ethan is unsettled by the incident, especially when he was the driver on that night. Not only that, he had to dispose of the body and keep mum.
On that fateful night, his path changes when he seeks safety in a car being custom-built by Shane (played by Dillon Windvogel of “Blood & Water” fame).
In striking up an affinity when they meet, Shane introduces Ethan to the world of spinning and, in so doing, fuels his desire to use it as a way out.
In meeting Shane’s crew, he comes across Amber (Chelsea Thomas), an ambitious spinner unafraid to tackle the best and build her legacy as the best. The attraction is instant.
Meanwhile, his mother returns at a time when Ethan is haunted by the hand he played in the death of a neighbour.
“Spinners” protagonist James is a marvel to watch. It’s truly hard to believe that he’s relatively new to acting. He juggles the conflicts of his character with commendable gravitas.
There’s also an understated sexiness to him.
He reels the viewer in from the first frame and gets them invested in his troubled journey.
The cast is made up of a mix of heavyweights and newcomers, who deliver the raw and hard-hitting emotions demanded by the layered storytelling.
As much as the series centres on the gloomy future of its protagonist, it is kept buoyant by a light at the end of the tunnel scenario.
If there is anything you watch this week, make sure it’s this!
∎ “Spinners” will be streaming on Showmax from November 8.