We’ve been desperate for more leading ladies. We’ve longed to see badass powerful women in their own narratives slaying more than the roles (and rules) defined by men who played before them. It’s taken some time but we’re edging closer. The next step in this journey? Allow us to introduce you to Queen Sono, the renegade super spy and modern black heroine we deserve.
Netflix’s Queen Sono is the streaming service’s first original African series. Created by South African comedian and director Kagiso Lediga, the show is already a compelling landmark in the endless Netflix canon and marks the dawning of an exciting new era celebrating the rich talent and stories from the continent.
This particular story is anchored by a special agent who works for a secret South African organisation. Pearl Thusi plays Queen Sono, the highly skilled – if not a little unconventional – spy (then again, do the best spies ever follow the rules?). Tasked with protecting the people of Africa from various threats and intrusions, Queen darts from country to country gathering intel, taking out bad guys and fighting the good fight with wit, charm and impeccable style. To the friends and family beyond the government’s secret circle of trust, Queen is an art dealer but even that isn’t particularly believable. The risk of being caught out is all part of the fun, though.
It’s not all money, guns and getaway drivers. Queen’s present is haunted by the death of her mother, Safiya Sono. The 25th anniversary of Safiya's death is fast approaching when we dive into the action of the first episode. Granted, it's significant for Queen in so many ways but it's also significant for the great nation of South Africa, too. Safiya was a revolutionary and a pioneer of change, fighting for the freedom of her people in ever turbulent times. In the series, we learn that Nelson Mandela had backed her politically before he passed. She was assassinated when Queen was a young girl and it has become Queen's personal mission to find out why.
Beyond the traditional constructs of spy thrillers, Queen Sono is deliciously drenched in a sense of place. It's as much a celebration of modern Africa (the Africa that we don't see nearly enough of in Western media) as it is an unflinching mirror to less pleasing realities of racism and colonialism that linger in plain sight. One of Queen's missions finds her undercover at a conference at which she laughs and rolls her eyes at the two white European women – one from an NGO and the other from a dubious business conglomerate – on stage arguing what's best for the people of Africa. A rising rebel group are making their way across Harare, Kenya and Congo, 'liberating' mine workers and preaching freedom from the constraints imparted by white oppressors. It's presented in a matter-of-fact way that doesn't necessarily drive the narrative of the series but forms an enduring backdrop that unfamiliar viewers might not have expected.
Nollywood fans will recognise the quiet echoes of soapy melodrama that bridge stories of corruption with offbeat punchlines and elaborate webs of subplot. English is interwoven with local languages like Shona, Setswana, Swahili and isiZulu as the action takes us to different countries across Africa. The entire series is a glorious, vibrant exhibition of black Africa that finds no reason to be anything else. And right in the middle of it all are black African women.
Our titular heroine is talented, messy, vulnerable, funny and respected. Her mother represented promise, progress and hope. Nana, who helped raise Queen after Safiya's death, is angling for government and knows just how to manipulate the men around her to help her get there – despite their blatant disregard for her own agency. And Miri, Queen's strait-laced childhood friend who now works on the same team at their secret organisation, knows how to pull rank. Her snide remarks and quick dismissal of Queen's way of working are as expected as they are frustrating, but there's a deep-rooted sisterhood poised to cut through the chaos that surrounds them.
Though it takes a few episodes to warm into and find pace with the multiple storylines, Queen Sono is more than just an appealing spy thriller. It's a fierce, conscious celebration of black Africa and the women at its heart.
Queen Sono is available on Netflix from 28th February