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Top African shows on Showmax contending for the SAFTAs

2023 is turning into a landmark year for the South African film industry. As we pass the half-way mark, and look forward to the SAFTA nominations, here are some early Best of the Year local contenders from Showmax.

THE MOMMY CLUB S1 | A record-breaking reality show

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In the City of Gold, there are levels to everything. Being a mom is no different…

After topping the Twitter charts at the end of June 2023, The Mommy Club set a new record for the most first-week views of any reality series on Showmax, ahead of even the Abuja, Durban, Lagos and Nairobi editions of The Real Housewives franchise.

A R250 0000 first birthday party in the first episode set the tone for the opulent series, which follows five glamorous Jozi momfluencers - and their 13 nannies.

The Mommy Club stars The Real Housewives of Johannesburg’s former breakout star Mpumi Mops, Tshego Manche, and Hermajesty, who each have three kids, as well as new mom Nunurai and mom-of-five Ratile Mabitsela.

The Mommy Club is produced by POP24, the company behind another recent Showmax #1 reality series This Body Works For Me.

ADULTING S1 | A record-breaking drama series

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Released in March 2023, Adulting set a new record for the most first-day views on Showmax of any drama series, well ahead of The Last of Us and Succession - two of IMDb’s five best international series of 2023 so far.

Adulting follows four friends in Johannesburg – Bonga (Thembinkosi Mthembu from Shaka iLembe and The River), Vuyani (Luthando BU Mthembu from Big Brother Mzansi), Eric (Nhlanhla Kunene from The River) and Mpho (Thabiso Rammusi from The Suit). Their strong bond has held them together after varsity even as their journeys in life have taken them in very different directions. As they try to find love and success, they turn to each other for support.

Also look out for the likes of SAFTA nominee Winnie Ntshaba (The Herd, House of Zwide, Generations) as Vuyani’s sugar mamma and breakout star Londeka Shishi as Bonga’s love interest.

Adulting is created by Tshedza Pictures’ Phatu Makwarela and Gwydion Beynon, who’ve won five Best Scriptwriting SAFTAs in the past four years for smash hit shows like The Republic and The River, which was also nominated for an International Emmy. Their next Showmax Original, Outlaws, launches later this year.

ROSEMARY'S HITLIST | A record-breaking true-crime documentary series

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After topping charts on both Showmax and Twitter, Rosemary’s Hitlist set a new record for the most first-day views on Showmax of any documentary series, ahead of true-crime phenomena like Devilsdorp and Steinheist.

The true-crime documentary series follows cop-turned-serial-killer Nomia Rosemary Ndlovu, who was sentenced in 2021 to six concurrent life terms for the murders of six members of her family, including her sister and the father of her only living child at the time. They were allegedly murdered for killsurance: funeral cover payouts worth over R1.4 million to Ndlovu. Ndlovu was also sentenced to an additional 30 years: 10 years each for fraud, incitement to commit murder, and the attempted murder of her mother, Maria Mushwana, her sister Joyce, and Joyce’s five children.

The jaw-dropping finale claimed that Ndlovu had taken out 28 other funeral insurance policies - including on her mother and her brother. The finale also revealed that Sergeant Keshi Mabunda was investigating Ndlovu for the alleged murder of her first child, Jaunty Khoza, who died of unnatural causes in 2008, age 13 - leaving his mother with a R12 000+ payout as the only remaining beneficiary of his father, Hand Khoza, Ndlovu’s deceased first husband.

RISE: THE SIYA KOLISI STORY | A Tribeca-winning documentary

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In June 2023, Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story won the Audience Prize for documentary at Tribeca, one of the world's top film festivals.

The 92-minute documentary reveals a different side to the Springboks’ first Black captain, who led South Africa to victory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. In addition to documenting his improbable rise to international stardom, the intimate documentary also sees Kolisi open up about his struggle with alcoholism and his rollercoaster relationship with his wife, Rachel.

An Orange Films and Star Films production for Supersport, Rise is directed by Tebogo “Tebza” Malope, who’s won Gold at Cannes Lions and the Grand Prix at the Loerie Awards, among other honours. The documentary boasts a soundtrack by Mandisi Dyantis and Haezer, who also edited the feature.

As Tribeca programmer Casey Baron says, Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story "jumps off the screen like a fairy tale" and is "universal in its themes of overcoming, community, passion, and forgiveness."

DONKERBOS | A critically acclaimed murder mystery

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The Showmax Original Donkerbos was the only African series selected for the prestigious Berlinale Series Market Selects 2023 - described as being for "curated series with high market potential.”

At the upcoming Silwerskerm Festival Awards for Film and Television, Erica Wessels is nominated as Best Actress: Drama for her role in Donkerbos as an detective investigating the murder of six children, whose bodies are found in the backwater forests of Donkerbos, Limpopo.

Created by Nico Scheepers (Nêrens, Noord-Kaap), the small-town murder mystery switches between Afrikaans, English and Venda. Reviews were glowing, with comparisons being made to Mare of Easttown, True Detective and Scandinavian noir, with the word "masterpiece" popping up repeatedly.

Edwin van der Walt and Nicole Holm are also up for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress awards at Silwerskerm.

SUPERWORM | A Kidscreen-winning animation

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Superworm is super-long and super-strong, and always saves the day. But who can save him when he gets too full of himself and is captured by the evil Wizard Lizard?

Directed by South Africans Sarah Scrimgeour and Jac Hamman, Superworm won Best One-Off, Special or TV Movie at the 2023 Kidscreen Awards, where it was competing against Luck and Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas. It was also nominated for Best Special Production at the Annie Awards.

An animated adaptation of the bestselling picture-book of the same name by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Superworm was hailed as “an instant classic” by The Sun; “one of Christmas TV’s greatest delights” by The Daily Telegraph; and “the BBC’s standout offering” by The Guardian.

Superworm’s voice cast includes Oscar winner Olivia Colman (The Crown) as the narrator, Emmy nominee Matt Smith (House of the Dragon) as Superworm, and Ghanaian-British actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Paddington 2, Mary Poppins Returns) as the Wizard Lizard.

THE WIFE S3 | Showmax’s most popular show ever is still getting nominations

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Mbalenhle Mavimbela has just been nominated for Best Actress: TV at the 10th Simon Mabhunu Sabela Awards for her iconic role as Hlomu in all three series of the smash hit Showmax Original The Wife, which came to end in April 2023.

Mavimbela was hailed by Twitter as “the national wife” for her breakthrough performance opposite first Bonko Khoza and then Wiseman Mncube as Mqhele Zulu. Their toxic love story forced Hlomu to choose between a life of uncovering the truth and a life of hiding it, as she transformed from a passionate investigative journalist into the matriarch of the Zulu brothers’ crime family.

Produced by Stained Glass, The Wife is still the most popular Showmax series ever and topped Twitter most Thursdays during its three-season run, with the Zulu brothers winning two DSTV Mzansi Viewers Choice Awards, two SAFTAs and the People’s Choice Award at the GQ Men of the Year Awards, among other accolades.

CRIME AND JUSTICE LAGOS S1 | Best TV Series at the 2023 AMVCAs

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Set against the backdrop of the biggest and most densely populated city in Africa, Crime and Justice Lagos explores the activities of the fictional Serious and Special Crimes Unit, an elite team of top detectives led by Superintendent Kelechi ‘KC’ Farasin (Folu Storms) and Superintendent Danladi Dikko (Jammal Ibrahim).

The Showmax Original was named Best TV Series at the 2023 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, where it also took home Best Picture Editor. Crime and Justice Lagos was also nominated for Best Art Director, Lighting Designer, and Cinematographer, for legendary Nigerian director of photography Yinka Edward, who was also the showrunner.

Crime and Justice Lagos is a spinoff from the Nairobi-set original, a co-production between Showmax and CANAL+, which saw Sarah Hassan win Best Actress: TV Drama at the Kalasha Awards, where Crime and Justice was also up for Best TV Drama.

THE WOMAN KING | An award-winning blockbuster filmed in South Africa

Viola Davis stars in THE WOMAN KING.

Some things are worth fighting for …

The Woman King is inspired by the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the West African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s.

Shot in South Africa and Ghana with Moonlighting, The Woman King follows the epic journey of General Nanisca (Oscar winner Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits in preparation for battle against colonialists determined to destroy their way of life.

Davis won Best Actress in an Action Movie at the 2023 Critics Choice Super Awards, while The Woman King took home six wins at this year’s Black Reel Awards, including Outstanding Film, Director (Gina Prince-Bythewood from The Old Guard), Ensemble Cast, Score (five-time Grammy winner Terence Blanchard) and Outstanding Breakthrough Actress for Pietermaritzburg-born South African actress Thuso Mbedu (Is'Thunzi, The Underground Railroad).

WARRIOR S3 | A critically acclaimed martial arts drama shot in South Africa

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Filmed in Cape Town with Moonlighting, Warrior is set in the ruthless world of late 19th-Century San Francisco, where rival Chinatown tongs fight for dominance. In the wake of the race riots that upended Chinatown in Season 2, Mai Ling (Dianne Doan from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Descendants) uses her government connections to consolidate power, while Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji from Bullet Train, in a Critics Choice Super-nominated performance) and the Hop Wei tong must find new ways to survive.

The 18VSNL HBO series has a rare 100% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes for Season 3. As Observer says, “If you enjoyed the gritty, character-driven historical fiction of Deadwood or Boardwalk Empire, you will love Warrior. If you were sucked into the political intrigue, blood and guts, and f*cked up family drama of Game of Thrones, you will love Warrior. If you’re into martial arts cinema, particularly the incredibly intricate and shockingly gnarly modern variety, then you will love Warrior. It’s one of the best shows of its time.”

Warrior is created by Jonathan Tropper (Banshee) and based on the writings of martial arts icon Bruce Lee, with Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee and Justin Lin (director of five Fast and Furious films) among its executive producers.

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