The sig­nif­i­cance of be­ing seen

The cre­ators of a new show are bring­ing queer is­sues to the fore and into peo­ple’s houses to open LGBTI+ di­a­logue

Mail & Guardian - - Culture - Nigel T Pa­tel

Find­ing con­tent that re­flects your re­al­ity is dif­fi­cult. Find­ing con­tent on tele­vi­sion that re­flects your own par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence with iden­tity is even more dif­fi­cult. De­spite on­go­ing de­vel­op­ments in queer ad­vo­cacy on the African con­ti­nent, queer com­mu­ni­ties re­main largely un­der­rep­re­sented, par­tic­u­larly on tele­vi­sion. Although our sto­ries do make ap­pear­ances in the me­dia, they are of­ten oned­i­men­sional, Euro­cen­tric and only in­cluded for a “slice of di­ver­sity”.

Iranti-Org, a queer hu­man-rights vis­ual me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion in Johannesburg, is re­spond­ing to this void with a new tele­vi­sion show ti­tled Siyani­bona. Part­nered with Soweto TV, a plat­form that has an au­di­ence reach of four mil­lion, the show will run un­til De­cem­ber af­ter its launch last month.

Ded­i­cated to queer con­tent, Siyani­bona’s 13 episodes ex­am­ine the state of les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der, in­ter­sex and other (LGBTI+) ad­vo­cacy and life in Africa, high­light­ing sto­ries of dis­crim­i­na­tion and the peo­ple who come to­gether to fight it. So far, the show has tack­led LGBTI+ hate crimes, in­ter­sex aware­ness and trans­gen­der vis­i­bil­ity, to name but a few.

Jab­u­lani Pereira, the direc­tor of Iranti-Org and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the show, says that, “over the past five years, Iranti has made over 100 short films. These have been pack­aged for Siyani­bona along­side two main pre­sen­ters in or­der to en­cour­age dis­cus­sion around gen­der, sex and sex­u­al­ity.” As a way to ap­proach top­ics that aren’t tra­di­tion­ally talked about in house­holds, Siyani­bona has cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity to have con­ver­sa­tions about queer­ness in the pri­vacy of peo­ple’s homes.

Pereira de­scribes the show as “lo­calised sto­ries, many of which are in in­dige­nous lan­guages, which are about the queer com­mu­nity, by the queer com­mu­nity”. Siyani­bona marks Iranti’s first en­try into main­stream tele­vi­sion, which comes with its own dif­fi­cul­ties.

Pereira ad­mits that the or­gan­i­sa­tion has had prob­lems with fi­nanc­ing the project. “Many donors want to fund queer work that is strictly and tra­di­tion­ally pol­icy-based. They do not see the op­por­tu­ni­ties that arise in re­la­tion to main­stream me­dia and its abil­ity to reach au­di­ences.”

One such op­por­tu­nity that Siyani­bona takes ad­van­tage of is in us­ing a lan­guage about LGBTI+ is­sues that is sim­ple and ac­ces­si­ble to a wide au­di­ence. By break­ing down ter­mi­nol­ogy in un­der­stand­able ways, the show brings out the hu­man­ity in the lives it show­cases. No doubt its abil­ity to do this is partly owed to the in­put of the team, who are all mem­bers of the LGBTI+ com­mu­nity, from the scriptwrit­ers to the peo­ple be­hind the cam­era.

Along­side the queer pro­duc­tion team, each episode ends with a prac­ti­cal tool, be it a re­sponse to a ques­tion or a key re­source to con­tact. Tani Anakak, one of the show’s co­p­re­sen­ters, com­ments that a forth­com­ing episode on World Aids Day was a “par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful one to shoot” as a re­sult of a ques­tion that is asked about HIV and health­care. Anakak, who has lost a num­ber of friends to Aids, said it was “great to dis­cuss and cre­ate aware­ness around the ad­vance­ments in medicine in re­la­tion to HIV, such as PrEP [pre­ex­po­sure pro­phy­laxis], a med­i­ca­tion HIV-neg­a­tive peo­ple can take to help pre­vent them from be­com­ing HIV pos­i­tive”.

Agree­ing with this ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the show’s abil­ity to af­fect peo­ple’s lives, another co­p­re­sen­ter, Kumkani Sivu Si­wisa, notes how Siyani­bona is some­thing they would want their fam­ily to watch.

“The show sends the mes­sage that, when we are ad­vo­cat­ing for the rights of LGBTI+ peo­ple, we are ad­vo­cat­ing for the rights of black peo­ple, women and chil­dren.”

Siyani­bona is a vis­ual re­minder of the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of op­pres­sion. Its mul­ti­di­men­sional fo­cus and ap­proach make the show stand out be­cause it ac­knowl­edges that rep­re­sen­ta­tion alone is not lib­er­a­tion. In­stead, it recog­nises that rep­re­sen­ta­tion is the start­ing point from which to ef­fect change. By por­tray­ing the re­al­i­ties that queer Africans face, the show pro­vides truth­ful de­pic­tions that are em­pow­er­ing and in­for­ma­tive for ev­ery­one.

Look­ing to the fu­ture, the team is op­ti­mistic that Siyani­bona will con­tinue to have an ef­fect af­ter it fin­ishes air­ing on Soweto TV.

“We want to make the show avail­able, free of charge, on our YouTube chan­nel. Pos­si­bly also reach out to other main­stream tele­vi­sion to cre­ate more queer con­tent and ex­pand the work,” Pereira says.

Siyani­bona’s im­por­tance is mul­ti­di­men­sional. For many, the au­then­tic queer sto­ries will be sig­nif­i­cant be­cause they may be the first or only ones in which peo­ple ei­ther see ex­pe­ri­ences sim­i­lar to theirs, or learn about ex­pe­ri­ences dif­fer­ent from their own. It is a sin­cere hope that the show has the abil­ity to trans­form feel­ings of con­fu­sion, lone­li­ness and fear into safety, af­fir­ma­tion and hope.

Ded­i­cated to queer con­tent: Siyani­bona is a new tele­vi­sion show that en­cour­ages dis­cus­sion about gen­der, sex and sex­u­al­ity while telling the sto­ries of the queer com­mu­nity. Photo: Gugu Mandla

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