The end of June will see National Geographic Channels International’s first non-wildlife documentary filmed in South Africa shown on television. The series is Taboo and the subject is the lives of three transgender people living different lives in South Africa.
Taboo, says National Geographic, is is renowned for taking viewers “on a journey beyond their comfort zones and across cultural borders to explore addictions and lifestyles that are acceptable in some cultures but forbidden, illegal or reviled in others. Each hour-long episode examines one topic from a variety of cultures and perspectives, often venturing into closed worlds rarely seen”.
Taboo: Born Identity explores the lives of three transgender individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. There’s Blessing, who was born as a boy named Samuel, who lives in the township of Ikageng. There’s Christien, a 51-year-old train driver from Cape Town, we meet Christien, who has transitioned from male to female with the help of his adoring wife and two children. Then there’s sangoma Tebogo from Soshanguve, who is 100% male, but was born 100% female. And there’s Tebogo’s colleague, Nthabiseng, who is Intersex, and has a medical condition that resulted in her being born with ambiguous genitalia.
“This is a pilot episode that we are using to test our audience response to the show. Should we commission further episodes our hope is to represent as much of Africa as possible,” says Fox Africa director of broadcasting and sales, Thandi Davids. “The pilot episode will be showcased under our highly popular Sunday Showcase on 30th June and repeated as part of the end of our ‘Best of Taboo’ Strand in July. Researching taboo topics for the pilot exposed many fascinating subjects across our continent. Indeed Africa is a melting pot of Taboos!”
Davids says “fantastic” local researchers did the groundwork on finding possible interesting candidates to feature. “We then met with possible candidates to discuss their stories, gave them the context of the show, and it all came together that way. The researchers came up with more people than we needed then we whittled it down to the strongest candidates,” she says.
“We were fortunate to have found incredible people who were very willing to share their life stories with us, which is by no means an easy thing to do. They also felt a sense of responsibility towards the communities they are part of to share their stories, which was an intensely special process to be a part of. A show like this can help people to understand each other when normally they might not take the time to really find out more about other people’s lifestyles they consider ‘taboo’,” Davids says.
The entire production team was South African with the pilot produced by Clive Morris Productions. “This further showcases our commitment to investing in the local production sector and to have African stories told from an African perspective,” says Davids.
Investment in Africa is key to Fox International Channel’s growth as a company, Davids says. “With the fastest growing countries based in Africa and with more Africans being able to access entertainment content, FIC sees an opportunity to deliver world class content to a market that is year on year becoming more part of the global media stream,” she says.
“FIC sees not only the opportunity to bring excellent content to this discerning audience but also to take African stories to the rest of the world. Our growth as a company needs to reflect the growth of audiences globally and we therefore are investing to ensure that we grow with African audiences and deliver on their programming requirements.”
FIC owned National Geographic has been active in shooting mainly wildlife programming from Africa. “As we changed our slate to start reflecting modern cultures and issues we believed it important that Africa contributed not only wild life related programming to the global slate but also programming that reflected present culture and society,” says Davids. “Taboo as a series rates incredibly in Africa so choosing to pilot in this series offered us the opportunity to deliver African content in a well -known and respected Nat Geo series brand.”
Davids says Taboo is just the first of what FIC hopes will launch a new way of showing life in Africa. “We certainly do have other commissions in mind, which we are presently unable to comment on,” she says. “The aim of all present and future commissions is to look at stories that reflect modern African society.”
The episode will be shown on 30 June at 20:55 on National Geographic Channel, channel 181 on DStv.