How Netflix's South African Drama Series 'Savage Beauty' Takes On Skin Bleaching And Colorism: 'You Don't Actually Know The Repercussions'
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Interviews , Television

How Netflix's South African Drama Series 'Savage Beauty' Takes On Skin Bleaching And Colorism: 'You Don't Actually Know The Repercussions'

An underground business testing a dangerous skin-lightner product on children is at the center of Savage Beauty on Netflix.

It’s been debated over whether there is a fine line between justice and revenge, and as the drama and secrets unfold on the show, that line starts to become non-existent. 

Rooted in the theme of how far one is willing to go for their family, the South African series depicts a tale of two opposing sides. Don and Grace Bhengu (Dumisani Mbebe and Nthati Moshesh) run a successful beauty company, but the public is unaware that it was built on the immorality of testing a skin lightener product on children for their business. That is until 15 years later when one of the two survivors Zinhle Manzini (Rosemary Zimu) comes to expose them and burn their empire to ashes.

Throughout the first season of Savage Beauty, viewers watch Rosemary face an inner battle of being who she is at her core or pushing her morals aside to ensure that she brings down the entire Bhengu family.

With such a complex character at hand, showcasing all of her layers was quite a challenge for Zimu.

“It was difficult at times,” the actress admitted to Shadow and Act of her portrayal of Zinhle. “I think there were some times where I would read a scene a specific way and then the director would be like, ‘No, this is how we’re going to do it.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about though? I can’t do that.’ But with the help of the directors, everything just flowed. I think moments where I just said, ‘Okay, Rose stop. Be Zinhle. The director knows what they’re doing and it portrayed amazingly.”

John Ncamane, who plays Calvin ‘Kolobe’ Mamabolo — a close accomplice in the Bhengus schemes — faced a similar experience as Zimu when it came to bringing his character to life. Although he had yet to explore such a role within his time in the industry, it was a test he was intrigued by to take on.

“There was a certain point of relation that I could have with the difficulties that [Calvin] was going [through.] And for me I was like, this is very interesting because I’ve never played a character like this before and to kind of illuminate that and bring that to the surface was quite interesting and tough.”

Along with the focus of the characters’ backgrounds, the show’s lens on the beauty industry alludes to how skin bleaching stems from the harmful effects of colorism. It’s a sensitive subject that some of the cast members themselves have grappled with.

For Ncamane, the script was “extremely personal” for him as it related to his experience growing up of being the darkest in his family. Although he never acted on wanting to be lighter, he has an understanding for other’s decision due to societal pressures.

In Zimu’s case, she shared with us that the children the Bhengus used for testing their product took her back to the time when she accidentally used a product for acne that had skin bleach, which resulted in burning her skin to the point she couldn’t recognize who she was.

“It just showed how these products are so quick to get them, they’re cheap,” she said. “You can get them anywhere, but you don’t actually know the repercussions and what harm they can do to your skin.”

The development of each of the characters and the powerful storyline can be greatly credited to the work of writer Lebogang Mogashoa.

Savage Beauty is a drama filled with twists and turns, but at the series core is the message of how the beauty industry has impacted society. Before filming even started, Mogashoa transported the cast into his vision for telling the powerful story, according to Moshesh.

“He did an amazing job. You could feel the passion with every stroke of that pen,” she described of the show’s writing. You really did. And from when we had our reading  he happened to be there with us and he gave us the backstory on what led to him writing about the beauty industry. This was a young man who’s clearly very passionate about the beauty industry and the effects of the beauty industry. We’re living in an age where it’s about photoshopping, filtering, enhancing our looks, but at what expense.”

Savage Beauty is now streaming on Netflix.

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