Design Indaba: Talking intersectional feminism with filmmaker Jabu Nadia Newman, creator of the web series, The Foxy Five

Cape Town creative Jabu Nadia Newman was studying film, media and politics at UCT in 2015 when the Rhodes Must Fall protests and Fees Must Fall movement erupted across South Africa calling for a free and decolonised education. Newman, who had been brought up on communist ideals by her parents who worked for unions and encouraged her to be a free thinker, was deeply inspired by the strong women she met who led the protests. She decided to leave university to create work that addressed the broader issues of representation, patriarchy and oppression raised by the demonstrations and focus on what it means to be a black feminist in the new South Africa. She dove straight into writing the web series The Foxy Five, which is now airing its fourth episode.

Jabu Nadia Newman

Each storyline expresses the hopes, fears and real talk shared between a group of fierce friends within a 1970s Blaxploitation aesthetic, whether dancing to Nicki Minaj in a club or staging street reparations. These unabashed narratives have certainly made a splash. So much so that Newman was recently invited to be a speaker at Design Indaba 2017, where Nataal met her to discuss her deeply personal, very current narratives...

Fees Must Fall inspired me to write about what black women are experiencing in Cape Town. Before there was a lot of talk about how apathetic the youth was about politics but during the protests that there was a huge resurgence of activism. It became obvious that as black women our every day was political. I was interested in what my peers were saying about intersectional feminism. You can’t talk about race, class or gender without thinking about how each of those issues relate and how you can be both the oppressor and the oppressed.

I wanted The Foxy Five to be a research project about intersectional feminism. At first I thought about the main characters - each one is based on a different struggle in society as well as playing with stereotypes of what people think of as a feminist. What I often find is that black women can’t identify with the word feminism because it’s a European term that they don’t have access too. But I feel African women have always bee feminists. The way they look, the matriarchal societies that exist in Africa, all forms part of that conversation whether it’s written about in history or not. Prolly Plebs (Qiniso Van Damme) represents the utopian hippy feminist but also class because she comes from an upper class background. Femme Fatale (Qondiswa James) is interested in the rights of sex workers and represents the overly sexualised woman. Blaq Beauty (Tatenda Wekwatenzi) represents race and the radical pan Africanist. Womxn We (Nala Xaba) represents gender; she’s the intellectual who has studied feminism. And Unity Bond (Duduza Mchunu) is into Afrofuturism and is the leader who takes all these women’s ideas and puts them together.

We filmed the first episode over a weekend at my grandmother’s house with an all-female team. The plot focussed on street harassment. It was also about these women coming together to fight for their own ideals. The second episode asks whether to send black children to a predominantly white school where the education is better but there is more psychological violence, or to keep them in black schools where there is more physical violence. It is also addressing the idea of black-only spaces because a lot of the Fees Must Fall meetings were black only. I had white friends who were against it but came to understand that there is a need for such spaces when we’re talking about healing and transformation.

Episode three was dealing with mental health, which addressed the sad fact that many of the leaders of the 2015 protests were not able to take part in 2016 due to the trauma, arrest and ridicule they had experienced. So it’s this idea that we aren’t able to be constantly fighting and protesting when we’re dealing with our own personal issues but it is still revolutionary to take care of yourself - resistance through self love.

The most recent episode is about trans-misogyny and understanding that what it means to be a woman is evolving all the time. When we talk about feminism we have to think about trans men, trans women and non-binary people. I’m also looking at this thing of being woke as a trend and wanting to be associated with certain people without understanding their experience. The next episode talks about the coloured community in South Africa. What is our definition and identity? And why is there so much racial tension between the black and coloured community? And for the last one I want to focus solely on the women’s relationships with each other and the importance of being allies. It’s about understanding that just because another woman’s feminism isn’t yours, it doesn’t discredit it.

The Foxy Five has been received well by many black women who were happy to see themselves on screen. Others have criticised it for not represent every type of black woman – fat or differently abled. It’s also interesting to learn that our audience has been a lot wider than I thought it would be - people who aren’t part of the show or spoken about who still appreciate it. That’s awesome. What I realised is that people are very open to unpacking oppression and privilege right now. All we can really hope for is that people understand and question themselves and deal with it.

We’ll look back at the Fees Must Fall as a renaissance time that caused so much creativity within South Africa. It’s also sparked a lot of confidence and acceptance among black people. But right now there are bad xenophobic attacks happening here. If we want to decolonise South Africa we have to think about ourselves in the context of the rest of Africa. We’re constantly trying to separate ourselves and be seen as different because our economy is better. So one of the big things we have to address right now is this Afrophobia attitude.

Being asked to be a speaker was Design Indaba was a big thing. It was hard to decide what to talk about because there's so much but I ended on the fact that instead of criticising shows like Girls for not having black women in them, I made it my responsibility to make my own. The best form of criticism is creating what you want to see. Right now I'm working with a documentary and writing scripts. I want to take time to focus on my skills and creating good stories.

View Jabu Nadia Newman’s fashion shoot for Nataal, Dream Boi, here

Portrait photography of Jabu Nadia Newman by Rudi Geyser
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Published on 25/03/2017