2021-09-27

The allure of reality TV

BET is on a mission to showcase the talent of Africa's Leading women to tackle issues such as gender stereotyping by telling their own stories, writes Monde Twala



It's as if we have a first class ticket into their living rooms, and the opportunity to enjoy their achievements and empathise with their challenges as if we were personal friends. The TV industry has seen an increase in such shows, especially those with strong women leads. However, global trends indicate that women are less likely than men to be seen in the media. And on a continent where the status of women is varied across nations and regions, it is extremely important to recognise the influential role the media, specifically TV, plays in driving the equal, balanced and consistent representation of women. As a visual platform, TV has a unique ability to tackle issues such as gender stereotyping and appeal to the normalisation of women's perspectives through their much needed portrayal, particularly African women, of owning their own spaces culturally, socially and financially. Through storytelling, crucial issues such as violence against girls and women, teenage pregnancy, motherhood, unequal power relations and other important issues enter the living rooms of households across Africa, creating an opportunity to engage on culture, perceptions, values and attitudes. It also presents the opportunity to continuously challenge the gender imbalanced society we live in, which often reinforces and perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a business imperative for us; it's important that our audiences see themselves authentically on and off the screen. ViacomCBS Networks Africa VCNA , through our creative content arm, ViacomCBS International Studios, has been a longstanding proponent of authentic African storytelling and creating initiatives that represent and empower women across our network. BET declared this year the Year of the Black Woman at the recent BET Awards. We followed up with the launch of our fourth woman led reality series thus far. Our latest offering is BET Africa's DJ Zinhle: Unexpected, a reality show that follows the life of multiple award winning deejay, producer, media personality and entrepreneur Ntombezinhle Jiyane. In the opening episode, we meet Jiyane's siblings, who are an important part of her support system and showcase a strong African family network. The series explores important social issues such as cultural expectations of her pregnancy, running multiple businesses and working in the entertainment industry as a woman during the Covid19 pandemic. The network's women led content has already yielded successful local shows such as MTV Africa's Have Faith, which documents the life of social media influencer, model and entrepreneur Faith Nketsi, AKA Queen Twerk. Moonchild Sanelly's Woza goes behind the scenes of the life of the charismatic musician and entertainer. She is an advocate for women's sexual liberation, which she expresses on the show and through her music. Youth channels feature established and emerging talented women in the network's Culture Squad of trendsetters and culture shapers from Nomalanga Shozi, Shamiso Mosaka and Lerai Rakoditsoe, who feature across BET Africa, MTV Base and Nickelodeon, respectively, to Folu Storms and Nenny B from MTV Base West in Nigeria. BET Africa has also produced Boity Own Your Throne, taking a closer look at the life of TV personality, rapper, actress, entrepreneur and model Boitumelo Thulo; and Her Majesty: Busiswa, the reality show of Busiswa Gqulu, queen of dance. MTV Base West in Nigeria recently featured Inside Life with Erica, which captured Erica Nlewedim the actress, entrepreneur and star. Another phenomenal Nigerian star, Anita Natacha "Tacha" Akide, was cast in the globally renowned MTV The Challenge: Spies, Lies & Allies. The show features incredible reality TV stars from around the world, and places Tacha in international superstardom. As a PanAfrican content aggregator, it is important for VCNA to reflect the real perspective. This not only enhances the execution of our objectives from a strategic business outlook, but also contributes to the societal responsibility of empowering young women and children from both an artist and an audience perspective. We are all about content for the culture, by the culture. VCNA's commitment to continue to partner and showcase women led content seeks to inspire and contribute towards job creation and opportunities for women on the continent. This commitment extends to other genres and programme formats. This can be seen through last year's launch of the first African daily telenovela, Isono, on BET Africa. The daily drama predominantly features an award winning women led cast that follows and narrates their lives in Vosloorus in Ekurhuleni. The show scored eight nominations in this year's Royalty Soapie Awards, with marvellous leading cast member Nthati Moshesh twice nominated for her Mother Mary character, for outstanding lead actress and viewer's choice: best actress categories. Keeping the black women talent flag high is another fantastic actress, Moshidi Motshegwa, who is nominated for the outstanding female villain award and also features in the viewer's choice: best actress. It is a true testament to the power of creating platforms and investment in support of the elevation of our talented women in the industry. The network has also committed to fostering an environment that engages with and respects each of its employees, supporting them as they flourish both professionally and personally. Through the internal platform #AnInspiredHer, the organisation continues to identify ways in which women in the entertainment business can grow their influence. With inclusion being a core tenet for VCNA and all its constituencies, all local productions deliberately reflect stories that resonate with our audiences and society. Whether it is an empowering reality show with an accomplished woman artist sharing her story of success, or talented African women leading storytelling through a daily drama, the purpose remains steadfast.

Despite the continent's challenging macroeconomic environment, unprecedented Covid19 pandemic and political uncertainty in recent years, linear TV and the entertainment industry is projecting continued growth, making it an important contributor in this ever shifting media landscape. As an industry, we have great responsibility to create a new path and spark new conversations that inspire and empower growth.

This will require a diversity of creative voices and a new inclusive way of working. We are open for business; come create with us.

Twala is senior vice president, general manager ViacomCBS Networks Africa and peer lead BET International.

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