Bokang Phelane, who plays Princess Zazi in the highly ambitious local fantasy drama Blood Psalms (Showmax), is eager for audiences to marvel at the world they created.
By: Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti
All images courtesy of MultiChoice
The epic drama, created by multi-award-winning filmmaker Jahmil X.T. Qubeka and Layla Swart (Knuckle City), has been hailed as South Africa’s own version of Game of Thrones. Armed with a heavyweight cast which includes Bongile Mantsai, S’dumo Mtshali, Warren Masemola and Zikhona Sodlaka and world-class visuals, it aims to go where no local drama has ever gone before.
Shot in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and North West, the first episodes showcase remarkable visuals, gorgeous landscapes and the wealth of local talent. The drama is set in Ancient Africa, a thousand years after the fall of Atlantis. The five remaining houses of Kemet try to navigate life after a prophecy of the end of the world.
Rising star Bokang Phelane straps on and takes on the weight of playing one of the leads as princess Zazi alongside Mothusi Magano (king Letsha) and Zolisa Xaluva (General Toka). Fresh off playing Vanessa on the Netflix SA original drama Justice Served, along with a stint in the Hollywood movie The Woman King (Viola Davis), Bokang is one to keep an eye on.
“To say I am excited would be an understatement,” she tells Blacklight. “I am honoured and proud to be part of something so ambitious. This project aims to do so much, in terms of opening up the possibilities for authentic filmmaking – where we tell our stories the way we [truly] see ourselves.”
Watch the trailer for Blood Psalms:
Blacklight: How did you feel when you first saw the finished product?
Bokang @b4bokang Phelane: I had chills. Honestly, to me, every frame looks like a masterpiece. I can’t believe that the show is on a world-class level. I felt excited for the audience who will see this show because this is something brand new. This is something South Africans have not seen. This is a story about Africans for Africans.
BL: Tell me a bit about your role as Princess Zazi?
BP: Princess Zazi is a coming-of-age story. She finds herself in a place where she is faced with the impending doom/prophecy of her nation, which will come through her. She is young, still trying to find herself, learning to understand her gifts and what they truly mean to her and her community. I was inspired by the idea of having to nurture your gifts and talents while navigating life. How that can service and uplift you and your community. I drew a lot from my life journey. And I also channelled a lot of strong black women who surround me, women who inspire and help build their communities.
BL: In this drama, you star alongside some of the biggest and most prolific actors on TV and in Film; were you not intimidated?
BP: The talent is insane. When we were doing our first readings, I would get into the room, and my entire bucket list of actors I dreamed of working with would be there all at once. More than being intimidated, I was inspired. I found myself in a room full of legends and learned that one always prepares. They were always prepared and ready for each moment because they continuously refine their craft. It was inspiring to see the process of the seasoned actors.
BL: What do you think is your intention as a black female performer?
BP: I intend to live, tell and honour each character’s truth; not to be judgmental and say, ‘this wrong or right. Possibly, within that, entertain the audience and hold up a mirror so we can see ourselves.
BL: Do you think South Africans are ready for such a drama?
BP: I think they will get it. Yes, it does break the mould because it’s unlike anything we have seen on commercial TV – but South Africans have a large appetite for new things. South Africans stream so much genre-specific content, from action and fantasy to horror. I think they will be happy to have something that is genre specific and that’s from them, not from outside – something in their language that represents them.
BL: So you do believe that streaming television could be what we need to satisfy the appetite for genre-specific content?
BP: I think it’s great for the industry because now we have the space to step out of ‘safe’ television. Commercial television tends to come with many restrictions; with streaming, there are more liberties. Now we can have film departments that were not shining getting their moment. And people can finally see what our film industry is truly capable of. So it’s great for pushing the actors; the technicians and writers can go crazy.
BL: For people still unfamiliar with your work, who is Bokang?
BP: Bokang is a Mosotho girl. I was born and raised in Lesotho, Ha Makhalanyane village, in Maseru. I came to South Africa in 2009 to study Psychology at Monash University. After I completed my studies, I left because I didn’t feel like that was my true calling. I took another job to be able to support my acting career – getting an acting coach and enrolling at an acting academy. I then joined an agency and started auditioning.
Around 2018, I was creating my own content, a web series and my partner introduced me to Layla, and she introduced me to professional film and television production work. I learned a lot from being her assistant. I got cast as Queen Nandi in a small production. Layla and Jamil saw my portrayal of Queen Nandi from that production and believed I could be Princess Zazi. At that time, I was working hard behind the scenes and trying to build my own production company. More and more work started coming in. I am just a girl from Lesotho who had a dream of becoming an actor, and I came to South Africa to make that dream come true.
BL: Becoming an actor is tough in South Africa; how does one begin to navigate the industry?
BP: It is tough, but I have learned that this journey requires you to hone in on your vision – what you want to achieve – and to go for it and do it. Deliberately focus on what is happening instead of what is not happening. Go for it, be consistent, stop counting the years, and everything will come together.
BL: What is your bigger vision as a creative?
BP: I want to do more Hollywood productions, especially after I got my first Hollywood role in The Woman King. I also want to do more action and fantasy productions. I am obsessed with fantasy, especially when it comes to African storytelling or any form of mythology. I am directing more. I started producing and directing made-for-TV movies for Mzansi Magic at the beginning of this year, and I want to expand on that. I want more growth as an all-around filmmaker.
Blood Psalms to premiere on Showmax on Wednesday, 28 September 2022.