Jabu Nadia Newman found her critical voice as a writer, filmmaker and photographer during South Africa’s student uprising of 2015 and 2016 when she became involved in University of Cape Town’s #FeesMustFall protest. Drawing from the women she met through the protest, Jabu, who was studying film and politics at UCT at the time, decided to put her degree on pause. In it’s place the filmmaker struck upon the idea of defining and representing intersectional feminism in South Africa’s post-apartheid landscape through a semi-autobiographical web series The Foxy Five.
In The Foxy Five , Jabu and her team take five stereotypes of black female characters in film and re-wrote them in characters called Unity Bond, Probably Plebs, Blaq Beauty, Femme Fetale and Womxn We. Made by an all-female crew from actors to gaffers, the show unpicks the many issues faced by millennial women in South Africa today, from catcalling to sexual health, all filtered through a ‘70s aesthetic taking its cues from The Black Panthers, ‘70s American actress Pam Grier and blaxploitation films.
We sat down with the Capetonian creative at Design Indaba to unpack the interplay between creativity and feminism in contemporary South Africa.
Why did you first get into photography and filmmaking?
I was always interested in art and photography, but I was also interested in telling stories. I guess film is the perfect way of bringing them together. I wanted to be able to talk about political ideas in a way that people would enjoy and would have more access to. The fact that people don’t read as much is sad but because of that, to reach a wider audience, we need to be using mediums that are entertaining and can also tell stories.
Explain The Foxy Five in your own words.
The Foxy Five is a current form of archiving, fictional narrative about what it means to be a South African black woman right now. So it’s history told through African practises told through stories.
The series has a definite ‘70s aesthetic. What’s behind that idea?
I wanted to create a difference between making a documentary and making a fiction because often the web series or the webisodes that I saw online on feminism were usually just a women in the foreground talking about it. I wanted to create a world where we were telling stories, and where people could relate to. I was very inspired by blaxploitation films, I was very inspired by the renaissance of what it meant to be black at that time and the ideas that Black Panthers had around communities and around being self sufficient and around protest.
You use the show to talk about different kinds of feminisms. What kind of feminism do you relate to the most?
Intersectional feminism, which the show tries to depict, which is making sure that when we are talking about feminism, we’re including trans, non-binary people, disabled people, we’re including women who are muslim, christian, jewish, we’re including women from all different walks of life that need many different things from feminism and are feminists in many different ways without maybe even knowing it or being able to say that they’re feminists because they don’t know the term. It’s about recognising our own privilege, understanding how we oppress others even when we are being oppressed.
How does it feel to be a woman in South Africa in 2017?
I think it’s very interesting. I feel very privileged to have what I have right now and to be in a position to be telling these stories and to be thriving and to be working with black women and to be talking openly about our issues and what it means to be black right now. So it’s really interesting, it’s really inspiring but it’s also very difficult at times and it’s also very taxing. But I’m here to do the work!
What role do you think creativity can play in furthering understanding around feminism in South Africa?
I think that creativity needs to create new ways of understanding what feminism is. You don’t need to go to school to study it to understand it: feminism is about believing that you have a place in the world and that you are supposed to have the same opportunities, the same rights, the same type of perspective, the same position in the world as everybody else. So I think that creativity needs to play a role in creating more opportunities and more positions for women and black women to be creative and to be behind the drivers of what creativity and design are.
How do you think that can happen for those who don’t come from your position of creative privilege?
I think that now is a time that we really need to be supporting each other, and that’s something that I’ve see a lot in women — this new sense of community. Reach out to other women that are doing the same thing. Send emails: honestly, people think that they can’t send people that they look up to emails but you can, and we probably will answer!
Tell us some exciting female creatives in Cape Town or SA that you’re excited by…
Wow there’s so many! Tony Gum — she’s an artist from South Africa — Buhlebezwe Siwani, Jody Brand and Manthe Ribane. I think the women that I’m finding most inspiring right now are the African America women like Shona Rhimes, Issa Rae and Viola Davis, who are behind a lot of content being created around new characters for black women: black women in power and black women in interesting stories.