Talking To Kagiso Lediga On Set Of Netflix’s Queen Sono
I’m driven into a closed off road in Illovo, Johannesburg. The posh suburb is filled with cameras, trucks and actors in gowns. I’m pointed through high-rise gates where the catering teams are cooking up a killer breakfast for the crew in the garage. I enter the mansion poolside and walk past bottles of Veuve Clicquot and confetti – everywhere.
“We’re shooting a party at a politician’s house,” Kagiso Lediga says. The 41-year-old director is beside me and, even in the early hours of the morning, has a sharp wit about him. We are on the set of his latest creation – Queen Sono. A show I’m told is going to be the next big export out of South Africa, with the six-part series the first African Netflix production from script to screen, and one that will be shown in 190 countries.
And you can see it, everything is bigger and the space far more big-time than my days reporting on the sets of SABC. “You’ve done so much lately, I say to Kagiso, what’s so unique about working with Netflix?” He gets straight into it. “We’ve always had this thing of doing local stories with a global perspective.
“Like even with stand-up in our community, it’s always been the drive. So when I started directing films, I kind of did that. The idea was to get into festivals and get a global audience in that way. And when Netflix picked up my one film [‘Catching Feelings’], it was like ayt cool and we saw it working with audiences around the world and it was interesting; we saw people were thirsty for these types of stories.”
Kagiso, who is the creator and executive producer of Queen Sono saw global interest again in his most recent film, Matwetwe; where he realised the influence of African stories on a global audience. “We did another film which was very local, like a hyper local film called Matwetwe. It did these really cool festivals and people got it. Where people in America; Texans, were getting it the same way as South Koreans. So you go, ‘Oh wow, so our story works!”
And that’s when Netflix came along, joining their production power with his genius for storytelling. “When Netflix took interest in this concept, it was nice,” he says on Queen Sono. “The word ‘disheartening,’ it was the opposite of that, I don’t know if ‘heartening’ is a word – but it was, knowing these stories can work.
Anytime you see spies they’re either British or American, you know. And in that genre, to have that kind of espionage story. [But Africans] come from that world, too.
“This is sort of a genre piece but it’s set in this kind of world with an African backdrop and the stories are based in Africa. Anytime you see spies they’re either British or American, you know. And in that genre, to have that kind of espionage story. And we kind of come from that world, too. Coming from apartheid: Russians were involved here, the Cold War was a big part of our story, Cuba was a big part of it,” he adds. “All our presidents talk about spies: that this guy was spying and these guys are trying to kill me.
It’s not the biggest canvas but there’s a lot more to play with which is great. Fighting, stunts, armoury, guns.
“And so it was a no brainer to make a cool genre piece set in that world that also goes through telling a story about the broader African and not just South Africa in general. And obviously Netflix helped give us a bigger canvas. It’s not the biggest canvas but there’s a lot more to play with which is great. Fighting, stunts, armoury, guns,” he says. “I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the stuff but it’s been quite a lot of fun.”
I continue to probe – how do you do it all? Write, direct, produce? “It’s fun, I guess it also kind of gives one the ability to carry out the vision. Yeah I’m wearing many hats but there’s other creatives out there, from HODs, to production designer, cinematographer to other writers that I work with,” he says.
With Kagiso, it seems he works best when he’s in control. “There’s a huge responsibility in terms of carrying out the narrative,” he says, before posing a question. “You know what’s great?” He pauses. “When you come up with an idea and when you see it sitting behind the monitor directing, you’re like ‘Oh wow, that’s exactly how we imagined. You know?
“So there’s been a lot more of that than not which is great. Which is again… ‘heartening.’”
And just like that, he walks away to carry on shooting, and I go on to speak to the stunt team I came to interview in the first place.
Queen Sono comes will be released on 28 February 2020. Only on Netflix.