Savage beauty

Savage Beauty – The Rise Of An Empire!

By: Anelile Dlamini-Gibixego

A Netflix original series , Savage Beauty brings not only entertainment but also unpacks black beauty, wealth, family and black love. Coming to our screens in this one of a kind production is The Bhengu family’s empire built on beauty, grit and family values and is threatened by the savage beauty, Zinhle Manzini. A striking beautiful face of Bhengu Beauty, a blast from the past fueled with vengeance and savagery.

We sat down with cast members, Rosemary Zimu (Zinhle Manzini/Selepe), Oros Mampofu (Ndu Bhengu) and Jesse Suntele (Phila Bhengu). They shared with us some delicious behind the scenes information and their personal feelings on the series.

Black Beauty 

Beauty is a political matter in South Africa and globally. The beauty standards in terms of skin colour, hair, body shape and what symbolises beauty have been put under scrutiny with the market demanding representation in mainstream media. Bhengu beauty is situated at the centre of this debate as the series starts with unveiling the new face of Bhengu beauty, Zinhle Selepe. A dark-skinned bald beauty with curves, not a typical model.

When the beauty is announced, a lightened version of the model was revealed, and a light-skinned Zinhle was met with horror and shock; “It was scary but necessary. We needed to show that not always will a lighter skin make you look better.

The shock and clutching of pearls because the lighter skin did not compliment her showed that it is wrong,” said Rosemary, “it is about time to have a show like this”. As black women globally seek skin lightning. The show “transcends beauty and becomes more about the expression of how we see the layers of being an African beauty and how we as Africans identify beauty” adds Oros, on the need to use these opportunities not only with face of the brand but with the matriarch of the series Nthanti who also undergoes an expressive storyline with beauty on the show.

The picture quality and production are beautifully directed from wardrobe to stunts. Savage Beauty is aesthetically pleasing. The character styling was immaculate, with guest stars including Gert Johan Coetzee. For Zinhle, the thought process from makeup, wigs, her body and the beautiful gowns communicated well. The political messaging in Zinhle’s body being nothing like a model, she is short with curves and bald, yet she too was a version of beauty that we loved to see. The careful thinking and intentionality of the production and styling were unflawed.

Black Wealth and Family

The production showed us the physical manifestation of what massive wealth and opulence would look like for a black family, the first generation of a wealth that would exist for multiple generations to come. The ethos of the show arises from black family dynamics.

Exposing loyalty, sacrifice and vengeance. From the polygamist head of the family to the ‘illegitimate’ child and the first son gunning for the heir position, with a task to hide certain family secrets. Betrayal and scandal in the home and rejection of values. A mirroring of South Africa’s family dynamic and a thrill to watch.

Black love and sexuality 

In this series, we also experience some intense intimate sexual scenes which embrace black love. It is an embodiment of an intersectional representation and celebration of the black body, for young love, queer love, hidden love and delectable sexuality and expressive realities.

Performing sex scenes is no easy task, needs safety and comfort. Rosemary told us that “the intimacy coach and the crew were comforting and the space was comfortable.

The sex scenes weren’t cringey or vulgar, most importantly they didn’t sexualise anyone and it was beautiful to watch”. Her co-star Oros felt the same, “a big priority was to make sure she felt comfortable and open to performing it the best way possible. It is nerve-racking but there was trust within each other and with the crew.”

The issue of over-sexualisation is prevalent on TV and the cast needed to feel considered, and protected and that the sex scenes formed a part of the story instead of for clout chasing. The male physique was widespread in the series, Jesse provided a lot of eye candy shots but felt content with the production choice, “was I sexualised yes, but for a good reason. When I see that we are going to have nude scenes or that direction my first question is why, because I need to know if it is within character and the storyline or if my body is just being used. It also lets me know how I am going to be taken care of in the scene. It is not clout chasing thing”.

Indeed the sex scenes were sweet, subtle and highly impactful.

Rosemary Zimu (Adventurous. Determined. Empathetic)

Rosemary describes Zinhle as “she knows that she is not doing good but for her family, she will do anything. She is led by trauma and heartbreak” and was a tough character to portray. In Rosemary’s preparation to be Zinhle there was a lot of research and studying her, moving like her and even moving away from her family to become Zinhle.

That is a lot of sacrifice for a role, yet she looks back now and is happy with her performance. Her determination to be a performer came from a young age. Her grandmother specifically would ask them to perform skits when there was no electricity. The process of becoming this actress was tough, with no formal education in acting there were insecurities.  Getting the role of Zinhle was a result of prayer and manifestation and the depth of research. The process was quite long with ongoing callbacks, and chemistry reads and that all led to a fitting Zinhle.

Oros Mampofu(Optimistic. Passionate. Stubborn) 

Oros describes Ndu Bhengu as “a soft-hearted young man with pure intentions. He is on a pursuit greater than the family dynasty and in the world. While the agenda is domination, accumulation and growing as an empire in the family, he is asking deeper questions about the meaning of life”.

Oros describes himself as stubborn and has a great work ethic, this is how he prepared for the role. Working deliberately in character research and understanding the world of the character. This included tonality, physicality, dress sense and what are Ndu’s conflicts and challenges as well as characteristics. And having empathy for the character. It certainly paid off as Ndumiso kept us interested and keen throughout his storyline.

His work ethic is consistent with other roles he has bagged previously, “I am stubborn. I worked myself to the bone. Preparation. I would not take a loss as an answer. My career as an actor is more than a gift element but a perseverance element”.

Jesse (Curious. Empathetic. Ambition)

Jesse Suntele plays the heir, Phila Bhengu, and describes the role as “You are the first-born son of a super-wealthy, the first of generational wealth. You feel like you have the correct characteristics to run the empire and yet other characteristics will impact the actualisation of leading the empire negatively”.

The character is involved in a few heated and challenging scenes but Jesse’s preparation begins with research, building the character and figuring out who Phila was before and who they aim to be in the future. “On set, I return to zero and shove the notes at the back of my mind and seek out the child in me. To be childlike and not think too hard but rely on my subconscious studying to come out in the character” he emphasised. The role also challenged him as there were a few stunts including a real fire on set.

His journey on our screens has been diverse and we look forward to more from him. Although the journey was long into getting this gig, his faith never wavered, “I had watched all the South African Netflix shows with my mom, hoping that I would one day be on one. And God willing it happened!”

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