Mail & Guardian and Netflix partner to empower young South African filmmakers 

There has never been a more promising time for young South Africans to tell stories through their own unique lens — from Africa, by Africa, but no longer just for Africa. This was the message when the Mail & Guardian joined forces with international streaming giant Netflix to commemorate Youth Month and celebrate the unbridled talents of young filmmakers working to create an industry that enriches lives and contributes to the betterment of society.   

On Wednesday 21 June in the heart of Sandton, the bustling networking brunch saw the two prominent media players roll out (literally) red-carpet treatment as aspiring and established names in the film, television and media space were invited to rub shoulders with top local and global entertainment executives and industry decision-makers.  

The main event of the day, a fireside chat with M&G’s Editor-in-Chief Ron Derby, explored the challenges facing young South Africans while also showcasing the opportunities and institutional support available to the next generation of creative talent.  

The Mail & Guardian’s Ron Derby converses with panelists. On his left is director Vusi Africa Sindane. 

Derby was joined in conversation by renowned film producer and industry veteran Tendeka Matatu who, in his current role as Netflix Director of Film in Africa, is perfectly positioned to lead the way as Netflix uses its global reach to champion African talent. His task? Facilitate and oversee the delivery of the continent’s homegrown content to a staggering 233 million subscribers in more than 190 countries worldwide. “At Netflix, we recognise that Africa doesn’t have a shortage of creative talent, fantastic ideas or even world-class skills,” he explained. “What there has been is a shortage of opportunities and resources.”  

Now, international players are embracing a new era of storytelling and local and global audiences are hungry for African stories. South Africa is seeing the emergence of a new wave of talent, armed with fresh perspectives, bold ideas, and a burning desire to rewrite the narratives and redefine the cinematic landscape on the continent and beyond.   

Passion and perseverance are resources too 

While more funding opportunities are available to the region, Matatu said aspiring filmmakers must know that the road they have chosen is not an easy one: “It will be hard, and there will be sacrifices; thousands of ups and downs, tribulations and tears and laughter, wins and losses. But that is part of the journey, and there is support for those who dare to dream big and live passionately.”  

This is something that award-winning director and M&G 200 Young South Africans alumnus Vusi Africa Sindane knows too well. As the son of a domestic worker, he attended film school on a government bursary.  His filmmaking journey pivoted when he decided to forfeit graduation and use the money he had saved for the occasion for a different purpose. “I realised that without a film, it’s difficult to make a film. I did not attend graduation and took the money  — just R6 000 — to go and shoot a 12-minute short film,” he recalled.  

His sacrifice paid off. His short film premiered at the Silicon Valley Film Festival in California and eventually earned him a nomination at the African International Film Festival. His debut feature-length film Letters of Hope garnered critical acclaim and saw him awarded a South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA) for Best Emerging Filmmaker. He said that sometimes passion was the only — but the most powerful — resource at his disposal.  

Authentic storytelling reaches across borders  

Another panellist, Rethabile Ramaphakela, agreed that passion and perseverance are key. The multi-talented writer, producer, and director co-owns the award-winning Burnt Onion Productions with her two brothers, Katleho and Tshepo. The trailblazing trio, known as the “Ramaphakela siblings” have been instrumental in shaping the local entertainment landscape.  

While she loves what she does, Ramaphakela said it’s important for young people considering a career in film to realise that writers and directors are not the only two jobs to consider. “There are departments on set that most people have never even heard of … and almost every one of these spaces has training opportunities. There are still many skill gaps, so get your hands dirty and be willing to learn.”  

Ramaphakela is perhaps best known for Joburg-based romcom Seriously Single, and for international Netflix sleeper sensation How To Ruin Christmas. She attributes the latter’s success to its authentic representation of black South African family interactions, coupled with universally relatable characters and dynamics that transcend race, culture and geographic location. She said a fan of the show from India told her that one of the characters was the embodiment of her own aunt. “When we tell stories right, they bring us together in ways that few other things do, while still allowing us to celebrate our differences and laugh at the quirks that set us apart.”  

Branding from the event. 

That, added Matuta, is the beauty of storytelling done right: “Great stories can come from anywhere and be loved by everyone.”  

Authenticity comes through diversity and representation  

This was something that the panellists agreed on: the importance of authenticity and diverse representation in the industry  — both on-camera and behind the scenes. Producer and M&G 200 Young South Africans alumna, Sihle-isipho Nontshokweni, relayed how interviewing some of the biggest names in South African literature, music and visual arts for The Ultimate Book Show shaped how she engages with the stories around her.  

She said storytellers must not overlook children as audiences, and be intentional about getting them involved and invested in their own stories and the stories of others from a young age. “Children’s content actually forms the basis of our collective imagination and shapes which stories we consume and how we interact with them as adults,” she explained, adding that younger audiences stand to benefit most from seeing themselves and their stories, and those of others, reflected in mainstream international media offerings.  

Nontshokweni’s best-selling children’s book Wanda traces a young girl’s journey to self-celebration, as her grandmother teaches her to love her hair. Its success has sparked a sequel and paved the way for an animated cartoon series. She said the opening of the industry and the possibility of telling stories across different mediums means South African filmmakers now have more pathways to success than ever before.  

Previously unimaginable opportunities within reach 

Gcobisa Yako is one of the up-and-coming young creatives in the region who is steadily seeing her dreams and aspirations transformed into reality. Born and raised in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, Yako’s big break came shortly after graduating from film school. After entering a competition, she was selected as one of six filmmakers from across the continent to be featured in the Netflix African Folktales, Reimagined anthology for her short film, MaMlambo.  

With a background in psychology and philosophy, her unique perspective added a contemporary twist to an age-old mystical river being at the core of many cultures across the continent. In partnership with UNESCO, Netflix supported the development and production, enabling her to bring her version of a story she grew up with to life for an international audience. She draws inspiration from her grandfather, who was unrivalled in his passionate retelling of local folktales but lacked the opportunities available to his generation of storytellers to have their voices heard outside of their immediate circles.  

Yako believes that emerging South African filmmakers face fewer barriers to entry today than they did five years ago. “I can’t wait for the future to see us establish our language of filmmaking in this country and on the continent,” she said. “There’s still so much to do and so many stories yet to tell, and we need to create more spaces like Netflix has to nurture and cultivate that fire that is burning inside young storytellers. 


Advice from South African trailblazers 

The Mail & Guardian and Netflix partnered up this Youth Month to bring together some of South Africa’s most celebrated homegrown talent to advise and inspire young people looking to make a name for themselves in the film and television space. The panellists urged emerging filmmakers to lean into their own experiences and realities and not to shy away from telling African stories, in an African way.  

By intentionally interacting with the multitude of stories woven through the rich tapestry of South African society, young filmmakers will be better able to explore narratives that challenge stereotypes and engage with the complexities of life in Mzansi — with both the critical and compassionate nuances that it deserves. Believe in yourselves and don’t be afraid to collaborate, said the filmmakers who have trodden the hard path themselves. 

Tendeka Matatu 

Director of Film in Africa 


“Hopefully, you’re bringing your stories to Netflix first because we’re really nice to work with! That being said, approach a number of different platforms for financing and support. There is a lot of competition between streamers and broadcasters at the moment and that is important for maintaining the healthy and robust industry that we all want to operate in. It’s an exciting time to be a content creator or filmmaker in our region. The school I attended in Zimbabwe had a Latin motto that translated means ‘reach for the stars’ and that would be my advice to you. To reach those heights you should be prepared to innovate and collaborate and fight for your stories with courage and conviction. But don’t be afraid to reach for those stars, and don’t be afraid to dream big. 

Gcobisa Yako 

Writer and Director 

Mamlambo – part of the African Folktales Reimagined short film collection 

“No journey is the same. I think we live in a world where self-comparison is such a debilitating thing. We tell ourselves that if we don’t do things in a specific way — in the way it’s always been done or the way other people are doing it — then we’re not doing it right. We need to realise that there are so many different ways to achieve our goals, so many ways to do things, and so many entry points and pathways to success. That means that no person’s story will look the same as someone else’s, but that’s not a bad thing. We’re here celebrating that we can tell stories differently, so allow your personal story to be different too. Don’t let that scare or discourage you. Surround yourself with people who are on similar journeys, even if they are on different paths, and make that community your priority. It’s what will ground you and also what will elevate you. This is not something that can be done alone, and creating can be a long, mentally taxing experience. You need people around you who never let you forget that you’ve got this!”  

Rethabile Ramaphakela 

Writer, Producer, Director 

Burnt Onion – How to Ruin Christmas, Seriously Single 

“I love the fact that we can call on each other to have confidence in our collective stories but also recognise that just as every story is different, various paths exist and every journey to get a story out there looks different. I’d also like to tell you to exercise your muscle of talent, whatever that talent may be and whatever that exercise may look like. There were times in my career when we had multiple shows on multiple platforms, and then there were times when we were making YouTube skits just to keep creating. We never entered the industry with comedy in mind, but we became the comedy people by accident because, in the quiet times, we kept flexing those creative muscles. If you’re still looking for your entry point, continue working on your passions in whatever space you are, even if it means scheduling an hour a day to write outside your regular nine to five job. Just keep creating, even if it is only for yourself. You don’t have to publish it on TikTok or social media, but the more you create the better you will become and I guarantee it will pay off in the future. And apply this to every opportunity that you encounter!” 

Vusi Africa Sindane 

Award-Winning Director 

M&G 200YSA Alumnus) 

“We often say that there aren’t enough opportunities for filmmakers, but there are! We need to ask ourselves what we are doing to qualify ourselves to access the opportunities that do exist. You need to believe in your story if you want others to believe in your story, and you need to invest in yourself if you want anyone else to invest in you. I am the product of the opportunities that exist — the government and the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) paid for me to study, they funded my projects and have been supporting and financing my travels when my projects are shown internationally, from Canada to India and Tunisia. It took R6 000 at the start of my career to convince others that I should be given a chance. It does not have to be a lot, but are you willing to put your own money where your mouth is and invest in your own vision? Be proactive and create, without waiting for others to give you permission. The best advice I could give you is that you really have to believe beyond belief. And that sometimes means you make sacrifices … just ask any of my exes!”  

Sihle-isipho Nontshokweni 


(M&G 200YSA Alumna) 

“I agree that you need to believe in yourself and your story because your belief and passion are what will give you the voice and the language and the fluency to tell your story in a way that is compelling and authentic and powerful. Lean on people who know what they are doing, and don’t be afraid to explore telling those stories in ways that are not familiar to you. I entered the industry as a writer, and that opened the doorway. I had to step through it, and my exploration was driven by a compulsion to tell my stories, even if it meant learning different mediums to do so. And the best way to do that is to collaborate with people who actually know what they are doing so that you can build on their experiences, instead of always learning from the ground up. I think my biggest insight has been that nobody has to do this. 


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