I don’t watch local TV. It’s shameful, it’s embarrassing and it is a badge I have worn with honour for a little too long. Infact, it is not only me but it is a huge entity of my network of friends. What is even funnier, is that the majority of us are local up-and-coming artists. Musicians, designers, producers, actors etc. So the question begs.
If certain sector of local South African artists are “above” watching and embracing South African produced material, exactly why should the remaining percentage of the population be bothered?
Secondly, why is it that there is this “cool trend” – amongst my friends and compatriots – of not supporting local productions. (I would love to delve into issues of even clothing and music here, but for the sake of lengthiness of this post, I will stick to television)
It is very hard to pin-point the correct answer in this instance, and any answer one would give would certainly be open to much debate and criticism. So my answer would never be the correct answer but rather, a personal perspective. Understanding this, I have always questioned how we have access to the same cameras and resources as our international compatriots but our standard of programming is not consistent. I shall simply share two of my main grievances with the local television industry
Acting Talent dilemma
Do we simply just lack the talent? When one compares our local acting talent to the pool of talent available to the American audience, it is obvious that we would have a smaller pool of individuals to choose from in order to find the real gems. So it would be unfair to make the comparison right? I do not think so. This argument would work if a country the size of England was not almost the same size as ours in terms of population. Yet when you look at the quality of productions coming from the country, it’s still at a very high standard. But I certainly believe that one of the main weaknesses of South African acting talent is our actors ambitions, their inability to brand themselves well and their inability to do accents.
For too many actors in South Africa, a role in a soapie appears to spell the epitome of career achievement. ( I can almost hear their voices scream with joy as a permanent role in South Africa’s favourite soapie comes with the comfort of a regular desk job at a government office.) And this would be okay if internationally, soapies were not seen as “real actings” ugly cousin. Soapies are an amazing opportunity for any performer to sit back, relax and take home a good pay-check for the next 10 years. An opportunity that should be regarded as a stepping stone as seen in the careers of the likes of George Clooney,( Demi Moore, Ricky Martin, Kevin Bacon and our very own Akin Omotoso just to add more validation), has become the benchmark in our country. What scares me is when this becomes the dream and ambition of a young South African actor. Are conditions in this country really that unstable? Is it that economically unviable to make a career as an actor or actress? Is chasing the dream of winning international recognition as an artist just too unrealistic and just too damn expensive? Is that the creative mission our actors are on? The ambitions of an acting career in South Africa needs to get back to where it used to be and maybe we will once again see the local community start embracing the variety of local productions that should be on offer. The likes of Joe Mafela, John Kani and company worked too hard for us to accept and embrace mediocraty
The Unbranded Artist in the Social Media Enviroment
How are current actors using platforms such as the advent of social media to expand their brands and create interest and content about themselves? Having a well followed Twitter page does not mean you’re embracing the social media opportunity of growing your brand. I’m talking about using social media to go to the next level. How many actors are shooting their own work on platforms like Youtube and Vimeo? How many performers are blogging regularly about their craft to keep their legions of fans aware of what they’re doing? Like Bonang Matheba used her own small window of opportunity to shoot her own reality show, how many others followed suite or tried to get as involved with their fanbase? How many performers are gunning for that Mens Health cover more than the cover of the social pages on Sunday World? From what I see, I am still not impressed by a lot of our talents ability to act on the opportunity of “Brand Me”.
The reality is that, as long as we aim for the ceiling, chances are, we’ll probably land somewhere in between the floor and the ceiling, or halfway between the ceiling and the floor (a place usually described as nowhere).
That’s our piece and tell them you heard it from Simphiwe Xulu aka @Mr_MediaX on Twitter.