‘Real Estate Sisters’ Producers on the Struggle to Find Black Crew in South Africa and What They Did to Tackle the Problem

Rexa Vella

‘Real Estate Sisters’ Producers on the Struggle to Find Black Crew in South Africa and What They Did to Tackle the Problem

Producing successful Black female-fronted comedy in South Africa is no joke but Black female producers and writers Reabetswe Moeti-Vogt and Zoe Ramushu are determined to bring about change in front of and behind the lens. Their film “Real Estate Sisters” screened this week at the 6th Joburg Film Festival in South Africa.

“Real Estate Sisters” might be a laugh-a-minute on screen but is part of a much longer, broader and tenacious fight behind the scenes to transform an industry that is still resistant to opening up and making space for more varied voices.

The comedy, which shot in 2022 for three weeks, made with funding from the National Film and Video Foundation and Netflix, stars two Black female leads, Gina Koffman and Leera Mthethwa, and revolves around two broke but sassy real estate sisters going from selling rundown apartments to selling high-end homes.

Under their Totem Zea Collective banner, Moeti-Vogt was helmer-writer of the project with Ramushu, as producer. Ramushu is also co-founder of Sisters Working in Film and Television (Swift) with Moeti-Vogt, who is a Swift board member of the non-profit established in 2016 to support, protect and represent women working in the country’s film biz.

Moeti-Vogt, who got her start on a comedy-sketch show a few years ago on a TV channel of the South Africa’s public broadcaster, was one of just three women in a writers room with 10 male writers.
“I saw the shortage of representation in rooms like that,” Moeti-Vogt 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.”

Ramushu says: “Choosing to write comedy is about accessibility. 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.”

Asked about the stubbornly slow transformation of South Africa’s film biz, 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, to find 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 explains.

“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.’”

Ramushu just created Wrapped as an app to help productions staff up with diversity “because of that exact pain point we experienced when we were crewing up. The app helps with a dire need. It’s just something that couldn’t wait at all.”

Moeti-Vogt touts mentorship to help transformation.

“We want juniors learning from HODs who are that. We’d like to have more young, Black female line producers, DOPs and sound engineers. To get there you need to pair these that exist, with young people who are interested and those who are leading them, need to be open to information-sharing and teaching.”

She adds: “A lot of young people in the local film biz make reference to the international industry, to international shows — 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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