Tuesday, March 30, 2010

South African Soap Opera "Generations" Goes Gay... Is It A Good Thing?

So there's this Soap Opera on South African TV called "Generations." They've introduced a Gay storyline, and it's getting heated.

The cast of "Generations"

Thami Mngqolo, who plays the gay character Senzo Zondo

Last year the show featured it's first kiss between two men. (And there was an uproar.)

And in last week's episode,

Sibusiso (played by Menzi Ngubane) caught his son Senzo (Thami Mnqolo) in bed with his boyfriend Jason and proceeded to beat the two with a sjambok.

Evidently there have been facebook groups organizing protests to try to keep the gay storyline off the air. But the story is still there.

And I'm a bit torn.

On the one hand, it's great to know that a popular show is addressing the issue of homophobia and acceptance in a country and culture where homophobia remains an issue, despite the protections of the new Constitution of South Africa, which reads in part:

The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

On the other hand, I wonder if a greater impact for good would have been made if the storyline was a more accepting one. I'm sure there are fathers in South Africa who accept their gay sons. (Though maybe that's a less dramatic storyline to explore. They are trying to tell a soap opera-worthy story, after all.)

Part of me worries that viewers seeing Generations will think that the only response to discovering their child is Queer is to beat them. Is it modeling homophobia, or is there going to be a story arc of the father coming (over time) to accept his gay son?

I guess it gets back to Chimamanda Adichi's idea of the danger of a single story.

If this is the ONLY representation of gay people on TV in South Africa, then how the storyline is dealt with has much greater weight - it speaks beyond just that story, because it becomes the only reference point for how gay people are treated there.

It becomes the stereotype of "This is how South Africans deal with Gay people." rather than "this is one story among many."

So I was really relieved and happy when I discovered that there was another daily soap opera in South Africa, Egoli,

which back in 1999 explored another kind of gay storyline:

Country boy Braam left the family farm in Okahandja for the bright lights of Johannesburg. The Engineering student and part-time bartender turned many a female head, but Braam came out soon after his arrival in the big city.

Enter Krynauw, a young single Johannesburg guy. The two hit it off and sparked a relationship. One thing led to another, as they say, and Braam and Krynauw have just moved in together.

Ebi Halberstadt,
the actor who played the gay character Bramm

Okay, do you see it yet? The black gay character gets beaten, while the white gay character got to move in with his white lover.

Is this a different kind of Apartheid?

What do you think? Is the "Generations" Gay storyline a step forward, or not?

Share your thoughts in comments!


Thanks to @casseytoi on twitter for the heads-up about this!


ivanova said...

You could have a similar column about American soaps. In the '80's, Dynasty and other shows introduced gay characters, but the story lines were all about shame, family hatred, etc. Or there would be only one gay character in town and naturally s/he was very lonely. And trans characters, not exactly normalized in American soap operas. It's only been very recently that there have been positive, hot gay couples in American soaps (Noah and Luke on As The World Turns, Natalia & Olivia on Guiding LIght.) I think it's unrealistic to expect the struggling country of South Africa to be ahead of the U.S. in the arena of LGBT soap characters. It sounds like they are following a similar trajectory. Also, soap operas are supposed to have titillating, bizarre story lines, so it's often hard to find positive images there rather than camp ones.

Angie said...

I think they need more. Either another story -- whether on another soap or a different kind of TV show, drama or comedy or a doctor show or whatever -- or more reactions on Generations to give it variety. Okay, so Senzo's father flipped out over Senzo being gay. How about his mom? His siblings? His boss? His grandfather or uncle? The driver or gardener or butler who's been with the family since before Senzo was born? (Trying to find another equivalent father-figure here.) They can tell more stories about this one situation within the context of the single show.

I agree with you that they're looking for drama and excitement and Bad Things to happen to the characters, since this is a soap opera and that's kind of the point, but they might [crossed fingers] have some more positive developments in mind for later. Maybe the main problem right now is that the storyline has just begun, or has just begun heating up (don't know how long the viewers have known Senzo's gay) and we don't know what else the writers have in mind for later.

Also, given the more conservative atmosphere in that culture, having Dad welcome Senzo and his lover with open arms probably wouldn't have been terribly realistic. Sure, there must be at least a few South African dads who accept their gay sons, but I'm going to guess that it's a much smaller percentage than American dads. Maybe more like the percentage of American dads who'd have been cool with a gay son back in, say, the 60s or 70s? And it's certainly not an overwhelming majority even now, you know? So if they'd had Senzo's dad be all cool with it, that might've just had the viewers eyerolling.

I see what you're saying, definitely, and I agree it's an issue. (The racial thing is particularly unfortunate. :( Although there again, it's a soap opera -- maybe six months or a year from now Braam's father will come to the city to visit his son, find out he's gay and flip out over it. Again, the story's not finished and we don't know what they have planned.) At the same time, I can't really come out with a blanket condemnation since I have no idea what-all else they have planned for the Generations storyline. If this had been a movie, one story and done, then we could have a valid idea of whether they'd blown it or not, from our POV. With an on-going story, though, I think it's much harder to say.


Anonymous said...

There is another show called Rhythm City also running a gay storyline,, but the character is also shunned by frends and family,, the mother even has a stroke!!!

Anonymous said...

so does anyone know where i can watch generations online??? ive been out of africa for about 2 years and i have completely lost touch of generations

Anonymous said...

It was not a response to the son being gay idiot it was a jealous rage of seeing his lover in bed with his son, a somewhat normal reaction if an overreaction in but understandable one in this kind of situation.

What are you conflicted about. It is high drama, which makes the storyline more interesting.

Anonymous said...

They are ahead of the U.S in lots o things, we do not have a national constitution that protects gays and lesbians and the attack against gay marriage has been just as venomous if not more so than in South Africa. And men whether straight or gay do not feel free to express their affection in public like African men until. Remember these anti sodomy laws where introduced during the colonial era by white Europeans!!!!