/ 10 June 2022

One Show, Two Takes: ‘Savage Beauty’

IIntrigue: Rosemary Zimu plays Zinhle Manzini, on whom the Bhengu family tested its skin-lightening creams, in the new Netflix drama series ‘Savage Beauty’.

One of South Africa’s latest productions on Netflix, Savage Beauty, has been the talk of the Twitter streets and other social media channels. The drama series has also enjoyed positive PR. Good PR it didn’t really deserve.

Produced by Quizzical Pictures, Savage Beauty follows the Bhengu family and their global beauty empire, Bhengu Beauty. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that the latest addition to the company may be secretly plotting to bring the family down. 

The cast of players include Nthati Moshesh and Dumisani Mbebe, who respectively play the matriarch and patriarch of the Bhengu household. The series also stars Jesse Suntele, Oros Mampofu and Angela Sithole.

Mbebe plays philandering polygamist Don Bhengu, who has a heart attack and is desperate for a successor. Moshesh is Don’s wife, Grace, a headstrong and mean-spirited woman who lives for the beauty industry, even if it’s at the cost of her children’s emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.

Savage Beauty aptly opens with a chillingly haunting song that provides an ominous soundtrack to the plotting main character, Zinhle Manzini (Rosemary Zimu). Has she been violated? Is she the long-lost child of Don? Who is she?

Against this backdrop, one expects a thrilling tale of sex, money, power, power struggles and a healthy dose of deceit and drama. But Savage Beauty looks better on paper than it does on screen. The biggest problem is the plot isn’t believable. Zinhle seeks revenge for the pain caused by the Bhengu dynasty, whose testing of a toxic beauty product leaves a bunch of impoverished kids, including someone close to Zinhle, dead. 

Then it’s the acting. With seasoned actors like Mbebe and Moshesh, I expected powerful performances that would bring each actor’s character to life. But this is not the case. They deliver their lines as if it’s a stage play and not a well-funded TV drama. The loud projection of lines and lack of convincing performance make for a hard watch.

But Savage Beauty does have its merits. For instance, Zimu’s portrayal of Zinhle is a stellar one. Her coy but sinister smirks keep you watching and wondering what next she’s planning. 

The show itself is beautifully shot and framed. The set and the long, tracking shots complemented by the costumes, are a visual marvel. Sadly, this is the only thing going for this series.

Maybe the second season will be better. As sexy as the premise of Savage Beauty is, there is nothing cute about it as a drama series. — Hlabangani Mtshali 

Where I’m from, Savage Beauty is what we called an MVV or “mooi van ver”. From a distance it looks like a 10 but, on closer inspection, it’s more like a six. 

The first episode sets off with flashing cameras, the coolest South African celebrities, influencers and gifted musician Zoë Modiga performing on stage. All are gathered to celebrate the new face of Bhengu Beauty. That scenery, matched with the social media hype, made me feel as if I was about to experience a new frontier of South African television. 

Created by Lebogang Mogashoa, Savage Beauty tells the story of a mysterious woman intent on seeking revenge for her tragic past. She entangles herself in a powerful and affluent family who possess a global empire and dark secrets. The woman in question is Zinhle, played by Rosemary Zimu. 

Don (Dumisani Mbebe) and Grace Bhengu (Nthati Moshesh) tested skin-lightening creams on Zinhle and her two siblings. Years later, Zinhle sets out to avenge her family’s suffering. 

Throughout the six-episode Netflix series I found the storyline predictable and some of the characters lacking in depth. 

Phila (Jesse Suntele) is one of the Bhengu siblings. He is the series’ bad boy, a rich kid trapped in his father’s shadow, but the rest of his time is spent following his mother around. Then there’s the other Bhengu brother, Ndu (Oros Mampofu), a naively optimistic rich kid who falls in love with Zinhle. Thank heavens for the one sex scene or his whole character would’ve been a waste. 

But, judging by the series ending, Ndu might redeem himself in season two. The Bhengu sister Linda (Nambitha Ben-Mazwi) is intense and enthralling. 

The trailer portrays Zinhle as the lead but the true anchor of this original series is Grace. She is a woman who embodies that awful saying “Behind every successful man is a strong woman”. Grace redirects her resentment for her husband at all who dare cross her path. 

Moshesh and Mbebe are a class act on the screen, reunited after starring opposite each other in BET Africa’s Isono

At first watching Savage Beauty may feel like going on a blind date with someone that’s not your type – but stick with it, because even though this girl is a six, she’s a strong six. Netflix had a nice budget and we can tell. The show hints at themes such as homophobia, colourism and inequality. Overall don’t expect Zinhle to kill anyone or get in trouble. It looks like they’re saving it all for season two. We hope. Gugulethu Tshabalala