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CITY PRESS REVIEW: The Ranaka's

2017-03-05 06:00
 

Johannesburg - Dineo’s Diary spin-off The Ranaka's manages to do what other local productions can’t - work as a hit reality show.

A DIFFICULT BLACK WOMAN

When I saw Beyoncé’s Lemonade for the first time, it got me thinking of those regarded as “difficult” women. “I tried to change. Closed my mouth more, tried to be softer, prettier, less awake,” Dineo says.

It’s hard to be a difficult black woman because the expectations to conform come from all quarters, and life seems easier when one is “less awake”.

Dineo Ranaka is regarded as difficult, and her Mzansi Magic reality show, Dineo’s Diary, exposed that in all its dramatic glories – her battles with fashion designers, the father of her daughter and her close friends. Yet, her talent and charisma could not be dulled. She is a compelling character with all the light and shade that make up her persona. While filming Dineo’s Diary, she was already working on a reality show that features her entire family.

She’s pulled it off and The Ranaka's debuted in January to rave reviews. Here, Dineo shrugs off the “difficult” moniker, at least on air, and reveals a more multifaceted woman.

MOMENTS OF HIGHTENED DRAMA

With Dineo also at the helm as executive producer, The Ranaka's revolves around the daily dramas of the family, featuring mom, dad and the five kids. It manages to do what few local reality shows have achieved – to succeed as a reality show. With the parents’ home as the primary location, the show seamlessly links the different locations where the children are housed together, as well as the A and B story lines in each episode, to make for fun and absorbing viewing.

Each child and the parents are labelled with an archetype – Dineo is the visionary and sister Mpumi is the spirit leader – to show how they operate as characters within this TV universe. This is a really smart device because, as we know, reality TV is not really real, it uses a lot of the conventions of narrative drama in telling the stories of its characters. Good reality must have moments of heightened drama and, by labelling the cast with archetypical names that we all understand, these regular people are elevated to the level of dramatic characters.

In the diary sessions, the characters often (but not always) speak in a way that we expect from their archetype. In scenes of their real lives, their archetypal behaviour is often foregrounded. Showing the lives of five young people and two adults allows the show to represent a diverse perspective on black life. And this may be the highest achievement of this show. It manages to show the realities of single parenting, for example, without falling only into the overused trope of the single mother as the poor victim (even though, in reality, single mothers do have challenging lives).

We see characters physically fighting each other with clenched fists, without immediately typecasting them as violent black men as is often shown in media images. And we see sisters grouping together to push out their brother’s girlfriend from attending a family outing because she is not a full makoti as yet. But our first thought was not that this was women-on-women violence. Black people are thus represented as normal people, with the same prejudices as everyone else, without these prejudices becoming the main way they are characterised.

THE BROTHER AND HIS BRIDE-TO-BE

The most interesting story line for me is the one of the brother and his bride-to-be, because the couple is so openly sharing the (sometimes ugly) intimacies of their relationship. The man seems to have a life parallel to the one shown on the show where he disappears to for hours on end and then reappears with flimsy excuses. I love that the director chose not to show us where the man was when he disappeared; it adds greatly to the believability of the story line. I wonder how true this is and whether it’s simply a story exaggerated for dramatic effect.

THE STAR OF THE SHOW

But the true star of this show is Siba Ranaka, the matriarch in the family, a woman who appears to have not one single wrinkle on her lovely face (#BlackDontCrack). The mother’s character anchors the production as the wise, more lenient parent, less interested in strict traditional rules. Both she and her husband give context to the personas of their children.

Their offspring got their verbosity from being allowed to openly express themselves as their mother does, they got their tolerance for conflict from their father’s open expression of his unhappiness, they got their drive and ambition from both their parents’ constant push forward.

The Ranaka's is a jewel and one hopes it gets its due recognition at the 2018 SA Film and Television Awards with at least a nomination for best reality show.

Catch The Ranaka's every Thursday at 20:00 on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161)

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