When Mnet announced the resumption of filming of new episodes of Mzansi Magic telenovelas (Gomora, Isibaya, The Queen and The River), following the lowering of the coronavirus lock down to level 4, I was concerned about the health and safety of the actors and production teams. But the press release gave some reassurance.
“At this stage, the safety of crew and cast remains a priority and we are in constant communication with production houses, as per the government’s directive, to ensure that stringent health guidelines are in place and are being adhered to,” said Mnet CEO Nkateko Mabaso.
Acting during coronavirus
Asavela Mngqithi who plays Isibaya’s Bhubesini Queen, Ntwenhle Ndlovu, had this to say about being on set during these times of uncertainty.
“They have very strict rules on set and it’s weird working with masks and social distancing, but it feels good to be back at work. We all have to learn to work safely and to protect each other, during this time. I am grateful to MultiChoice that we are able to work, and for their continued support during lockdown,” said Mngqithi.
— Isibaya Mzansi Magic (@IsibayaMzansi) June 2, 2020
Asavela recently made public her pregnancy which, naturally, puts her in the at risk category. While there is no medical proof to say pregnant women are at risk of contracting the virus, they are still considered clinically vulnerable. According to leading medical website, WebMD, a fever in early pregnancy, from COVID-19 or any other cause, can raise the chances of birth defects. And severe lung illnesses late in your pregnancy can make you more likely to deliver your baby prematurely.
How Isibaya responded to coronavirus
Breathing and speaking through a three ply mask is not only uncomfortable but almost asphyxiating. But in all new episodes of multi award winning telenovela Isibaya, the actors maintain a prudent distance from one another. During close dialogue, at least one of the actors will have their mouth and nose covered at all times. It is also worth noting that the Isibaya writing team has woven the coronavirus into the story.
It is often said art imitates life. But at the same time, television provides an escape from the horrors of our reality. Each time we tune in to Isibaya, we are looking for a brief utopia; to take a break from laundry, unpaid bills, work, rising unemployment. It is commendable that Isibaya chose safety over fulfilment of the Utopian fantasy.
— Isibaya Mzansi Magic (@IsibayaMzansi) June 3, 2020
MaNtuli and Mandla’s Tavern, the meeting spot for Bhubesini village, is shut, just like liquor stores in real life which only recently resumed alcohol sales. In a weepy reunion of secret lovers, Ntwenhle Ndlovu and Jabulani Zungu exchanged affectionate words, but, unlike pre-coronavirus episodes, there was no kissing or physical contact. Then there is slay queen, Sizakele, played by the lovely Enhle Mbali Mlotshwa, who must have gone through 97 masks of different colours and designs to match her flamboyant character. Ntwenhle had a moment with her cousin Sbusiso where she wanted to hug him before she pulled back due to coronavirus fears and the Zungu drivers sanitize their fleet of taxis, in an accurate portrayal of reality. And reality is that South Africa now has 37,525 confirmed cases of coronavirus, over 700 of them dead.
How others can learn from Isibaya
There hasn’t been similar precautions with the other Mzansi Magic telenovelas, at least not any that one can immediately spot. On Gomora, for example, Mazet (Sphesihle Ndaba) and Ntokozo (Ntobeko Sishi) embraced in an episode aired last week, Thathi (Katlego Danke) and Rodney Mkhize (Vusi Kunene) also exchanged that infamous gropey hug. There was also extreme contact between Thathi and Pretty (Siyasanga Papu) during a domnestic brawl. It took further bodily contact to restrain the feisty Pretty from attacking her sister a second time. There are also numerous instances of physical contact on The River, which airs on 1Magic.
To be fair, the complete removal of physical contact would also take away the human element in storytelling. But consider, for a moment, the chain reaction of infections – both on and off set – that could result from one member of the cast or crew having the coronavirus.
To encourage health and safety at work, perhaps the SAFTA organisers ought to include an award for safest working environment. From what we have seen so far, Isibaya would be the clear winner.
Images from Twitter @MzansiMagic