NTHATI MOSHESH: Advocate for More Women Storytellers in SA Film and Television Industry
Celebrated actress Nthati Moshesh laments the fact that women’s roles in the South African film and TV industry are overwhelmingly conceptualised and directed by men. “We need female voices as heads of channels, heads of networks, heads of production companies, so that the narrative can change,” says Moshesh.
“I would love it if the female voice was more dominant because I think the storytelling will change and women will be seen in a different light,” she says.
Moshesh has been shortlisted for a South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA) to be announced on 2-3 September for her role as Mary Ndlovo in the BET Africa telenovela, ISONO, which means ‘sin’. “She is really a sinner, this woman,” Moshesh says. “If you think of the seven deadly sins, she’s inhabited all seven of them.”
Moshesh’s character, referred to as ‘Mother Mary’, projects an image of a devoted Christian philanthropist with a big heart, who takes in homeless children and youth at risk and cares for them at a center known as the House of Grace. Behind the scenes she brokers illegal adoptions, launders money through her church and is involved in numerous other illicit deals.
Filming took place on location in Johannesburg during covid lockdown in 2020. Stress levels were through the roof and having to be hyper conscious had an impact on the natural expression that happens in acting, Moshesh says.
There were four directors, which Moshesh also found challenging at times. “We are talking about four visionaries, four different views and opinions of what your character is. I know the character like the back of my hand, I have inhabited her, I live in her, so I wasn’t always very gracious when one of the directors had a different take on who she was,” says Moshesh. “I wanted to preserve the integrity of the role, awful sinner that she is. You know there is an integrity that comes with the role, and I would butt head with directors at times because at the end of the day, as much as it is their vision, I am the one who needs to tell the story.”
Moshesh went on to play the part of Grace Bhengu in the Netflix series, Savage Beauty, which was Number 10 in South Africa for weeks on end. Another tough woman character, Grace Bhengu is destroyed by her husband’s serial philandering. “There is a brokenness and a vulnerability about Grace Bhengu and about the choices she makes,” Moshesh reflects. “Imagine if you are stuck with a man like that and you view every woman as an enemy…He’s a pervert and as the Americans say, he is an arsehole of great proportions,” Moshesh pronounces.
At 52, Moshesh has been in the industry for 32 years and she is tired of playing roles interpreted from a male, patriarchal stance. “My mother was a strong woman, but she didn’t carry a gun, screech at the top of her voice and use vulgar language,” Moshesh says. “Why can’t I play a role like my mother?”
Multi-award-winning producer/director, Sara Blecher, who has directed Moshesh in two award-winning films that pushed against the female stereotypes of sexpot or witch, said: “The reality is that when you do let women tell stories, women end up being multi-faceted and three dimensional and real actual people, and heroic but also flawed.”
“I would love to know what is happening in Nigeria now,’ Blecher says, because a lot of people involved in the film industry are actually women, but somehow the Nollywood model of women characters is either the nagging mom or the vile bitch.”