Representation of the matriarch in South African soap opera: a case study of Uzalo.
Onuh, Janet Atinuke.
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The portrayal of strong female characters, often known as matriarchs, is one of the conventions of the soap opera genre. The genre is considered a ‘female genre’ based on the regular depiction of powerful, influential and independent-minded female figures. Limited study on the construction of this prominent character within the context of South African soap opera led to this study, using the relatively new soap opera, Uzalo: Blood is forever as a case study. The study aimed to explore how the two matriarchal figures in the soap were represented by the producers and the reasons motivating this portrayal. A qualitative research methodology was adopted and data was gathered through semi-structured interviews with selected production team and cast members of Uzalo, and a basic textual analysis of episode 4, season 2. Interpretation of this data was achieved through the mobilization of genre and narrative theory. The study found that the two matriarchs were constructed within the binary oppositions of crime-Christian values, tradition-modern, religion-secular and good-bad. However, their portrayal is more complicated than a straightforward binary model, showing the complexity of the characters in their roles as mothers, wives, business-woman/church leader and de-facto heads of their homes. Representations of the characters conformed to both international and local conventions of matriarchal depiction but were subverted due to their construction within the South African KwaMashu township context that is defined by its Zulu culture. The decisions and actions of two Uzalo’s matriarchs depict their similarity to both international and local matriarchal soaps, however, their construction as Black African matriarchs distinguishes them from international matriarchs, and their setting within township reveals their uniqueness from local South African soap operas. Though the representation was aimed at representing strong independent women, the construction of the matriarchs was influenced by a patriarchal ideology.