Real Estate Sisters

Real Estate Sisters
Real Estate Sisters
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Producing successful comedy starring black women in South Africa isn’t easy, but producer Reabetswe Moeti-Vogt and writer Zoe Ramushu are determined to make changes both in front of and behind the camera. This week their film Real Estate Sisters screened at the 6th Joburg Film Festival.

But Real Estate Sisters is just one joke a minute out of many — what happens off screen takes longer, reaches further and sticks harder as it tries to open up an industry that still insists on staying shut.

Made over three weeks in 2022 with funding from the National Film and Video Foundation and Netflix, the comedy stars two black female leads – Gina Koffman and Leera Mthethwa – as two broke but sassy real estate sisters who go from selling rundown apartments to selling high-end homes.

Under their Totem Zea Collective banner, Moeti-Vogt helmed as writer while Ramushu produced; she also co-founded Sisters Working in Film and Television (Swift) with Moeti-Vogt, who is a Swift board member of the non-profit set up in 2016 to support, protect and represent women working in the country’s film biz.

A few years ago on a TV channel of South Africa’s public broadcaster, Moeti-Vogt cut her teeth on a comedy-sketch show where she was one of three women writers holed up with 10 men.

“I saw the shortage of representation in rooms like that,” she tells Variety. “But I also found my own strength and I really learnt the strength of satire and comedy to deliver a message. Comedy’s a very important genre and not one to just be dismissed as slapstick.”

“Choosing to write comedy is about accessibility,” says Ramushu. “There are very important films touching on very tough issues but that’s not what most people are immediately going to pick to watch on Netflix or Amazon or Showmax. Comedy is something that draws audiences in and promises joy and entertainment. As black people it’s very important for us to have entertainment, to experience joy, because that isn’t always presented to us as an option. So comedy is extremely important and strategic for us as a company to relay messages to the audience but also to inspire.”

On the question of what has stubbornly kept South Africa’s film business from transforming quickly enough, Ramushu says: “There’s been very little transformation and we all know it. There’s very little transformation behind the camera and it’s a massive issue that Rea and I have been working on for years.”

“Something we experienced crewing up for Real Estate Sisters ourselves is that it just took longer for you to find people of color, female representation — particularly in technical roles. People get relegated to make-up and hair and assistants — which are not decision-making roles. We need HODs, technical roles.”

“What we learnt is it takes more time, which also obviously costs more money. But if you want to do it you can — you have to make it a priority,” Ramushu says.

“Stop beating around the bush. We said we need young people; we need black people; we need females – those were our priorities in terms of crewing up. We’re very proud of the representation we had on Real Estate Sisters.”

Wrapped is an app that Ramushu created to address diversity among productions in the industry. “The reason why we did it because there was a pain point in our past experience when we were crewing up… It’s just something that could not wait at all,” he says.

Mentorship is a key component of transformation, according to Moeti-Vogt.

“We want juniors learning from HODs who are that. We’d like to have more young, Black female line producers, DOPs and sound engineers. You need to pair these that exist with young people who are interested — but also (those) leading them must be open (to) information sharing and teaching.”

She adds: “A lot of young people in the local film biz make reference(s) to the international industry — they want to make films like that, or act like famous Hollywood stars. The reality is that our industry is here in South Africa.”

“Immerse yourself in the local industry. If you’re making South African films, watch South African films. If you’re making South African television, watch South African television.”

“People say this almost with pride ‘Oh no, I don’t watch TV.’ But you’re in the TV and film industry. You’re pitching for TV shows. You’re talking to a broadcaster but haven’t watched it for the past 10 years. Become a real part of the industry you’re in.”

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