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‘Woman King’ Leads Big-Budget Shoots in South Africa as Country Sees Production Boom

‘Woman King’ Leads Big-Budget Shoots in South Africa as Country Sees Production Boom Plus Icon The Woman King Sony Popular on Variety A host of big-budget studio productions, including Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 7” and Viola Davis’ historical epic “The Woman King,” has given a boost to South Africa’s locations industry, with Netflix’s live-action series “One Piece” — based on the iconic Japanese manga — boasting the country’s biggest production budget to date. 
But while both foreign and domestic productions are booming, industry sources say more work needs to be done to rebuild confidence in the country’s beleaguered cash rebate program, as well as ramp up ongoing efforts to boost Black participation in the white-dominated sector. 

After several years in which producers were hamstrung by protracted payout delays, along with guideline changes that sources say frequently caught the industry flat-footed, money is flowing again to South Africa’s cash rebate program, which offers foreign productions up to 25% back on qualifying local expenditures. Related Stories VIP+ Iger’s Big Disney Reorg Aims to Fix Problems He Helped Sow Jennifer Lopez Says Upcoming Album Is Inspired by Rekindled Romance With Ben Affleck Nevertheless, “there’s no doubt that damage has been done,” says Michael Auret of Spier Films, which has offices in Cape Town, London and Los Angeles. 

“I think it will take us this coming year of solid work and rebates being paid for everything to escalate and scale up again.” Another leading producer says “there is political willingness,” with better lines of communication between the industry and the government than in years past, but “the administration’s faux pas continue to create uncertainty.” 

A key factor behind the turmoil has been a contentious debate over whether the industry has done enough to further the country’s goals of economic transformation, with the government introducing additional requirements to the rebate scheme that sought to increase Black ownership and management in the sector. 

The industry is now facing a broader reckoning over representation in the Black-majority country, with a large-scale effort to redress economic imbalances finally underway nearly three decades since the end of apartheid. 

As some of those measures begin to bear fruit, a sense of optimism prevails. 

“It’s quite an exciting time to be in South Africa at the moment,” says Tshepiso Chikapa Phiri, CEO of Known Associates Entertainment, which serviced “The Woman King” and Idris Elba starrer “Beast.” 

Known Associates recently completed a deal to acquire Moonlighting Films, one of South Africa’s leading production services companies, which recently serviced “Mission: Impossible 7” and the HBO Max series “Warrior.” 

For the first time in the company’s 25-year history, Moonlighting will have a Black woman at the helm.
Marisa Sonemann-Turner, of production services outfit Film Afrika, says her company has also witnessed “several transformation success stories,” such as the appointment of Black directors Mandla Dube and Nosipho Dumisa to helm “King Shaka,” a 10-part series the company is servicing for CBS Studios. 

The “active empowerment” of Black heads of departments has been a driving force across Film Afrika projects, says Sonemann-Turner. 

Meanwhile, the company has been instrumental in the Academy of Creative Excellence, a mentorship program that enables emerging South African filmmakers to shadow key players on major productions, such as Ridley Scott’s HBO Max series “Raised by Wolves,” which Film Afrika serviced. The industry is also taking cues from efforts to improve diversity in the U.K. workforce to shore up a crew base stretched thin by the current production boom, according to Auret. 

“When you’re in a country that has 37% unemployment, it doesn’t make sense that you have crew unavailability,” he says. 

“It just speaks to the fact that we need to do more.” There’s no shortage of work to go around. 

“If you’re not shooting for the streamers, you’re servicing. If you’re not servicing, you’re making local content,” Phiri says. “I don’t think it’s a short-term boom or trend. This is the beginning of something great for us as a country.”