In case you haven’t heard, Queen Sono, Netflix’s first African original series premiered on Saturday 28 February. And even though the six-part spy thriller is set in South Africa and stars South African actress Pearl Thusi (Quantico, Catching Feelings), it also features Kenya’s screen legend Raymond Ofula who makes an appearance in Episode 3: The Devil’s Toys.
The ever charismatic Ofula plays the former President of Tanzania – President Magoro, an ally of Mandela during the struggle for liberation of Africa. In an attempt to uncover the truth about the death of her mother – the freedom fighter Safiya Sono, Thusi’s Queen Sono (while on an undercover mission as a journalist at the Nairobi Security Summit) enquires about President Magoro’s involvement in the transition period in South Africa after apartheid.
It’s a brief scene, not longer than five minutes but it gives us a glimpse of who Ofula’s character is – certainly moulded from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who speaks with wisdom and conviction only reserved for Africa’s founding fathers:
“We fought so that our children could have a better life. The struggle and our children were mutually linked. Now that the whole thing is spoilt, we have to find a way to make it right again for the people of this continent.”
Other than the delightful appearance by Ofula, Queen Sono also features Kenya’s band Sauti Sol in collaboration with South Africa’s Sho Madjozi and Black Motion its official soundtrack.
You will also notice some brief shots of Uhuru Park and the beautiful Nairobi skyline when Queen’s espionage takes her to Kenya which also happens to be the residence of Russian oligarch and Queen Sono’s ass-kicking villain Ekaterina Gromov (South Africa’s Kate Liquorish).
Ofula’s acting legacy
Queen Sono is just one of the many high-profile projects that Raymond Ofula, a force to reckon with in the film/TV industry in Kenya, has featured in.
In 2019, Ofula made an appearance in Netflix’s The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind alongside British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kenyan actors Maxwell Simba, Robert Agengo (Kona), Melvin Alusa (Monica), Martin Githinji (Sue na Jonnie) and Eddie Mbugua (Socialites). He also featured the second instalment of the Angelina Jolie-led Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2003.
Locally, Ofula has appeared in Makutano Junction, Noose of Gold, Monica, and most recently The System where he plays the incorruptible politician Teiye and the drama series Country Queen where he plays Mwalimu – a character who’s described as “a natural born leader…who will never bend no matter how strong the wind.”
Queen Sono’s reception
Queen Sono has received generally positive reviews and is currently certified fresh with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. AV Club described it as “a carefully crafted, visually brilliant drama that examines everything from black female independence to the impact of white colonialism on Africa” while Refinery29 wrote: “…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.”
Nonetheless, delightful, fierce and visually-appealing as it may be, Queen Sono is not perfect. But for now, it is revolutionary, and it does an excellent job in offering us a glimpse of what could be when streaming giants with big budgets like Netflix invest in content in Africa. Now let’s just hope that the second Netflix African original, the teen mystery Blood and Water (to premiere sometime in 2020) will be unrestrained in unlocking the full potential of storytelling that Africa has.