The story of four affluent South African women who are “making it” in post-apartheid Johannesburg, Society is actually a miniseries that has been re-cut into a feature film, and is currently playing at film festivals in the U.S.
Ten years out of high school and less than two decades after the end of apartheid, four twenty-something women are chasing the new African dream. Though it’s positioned as an “African Sex in the City," the film cuts a fair bit deeper than HBO’s beloved series. Its roots in TV are apparent — much more time is devoted to exploring the complex relationships among its characters, and the drama develops over a slow burn.
Inno (Lele Ledwaba) is a climatologist who features prominently on TV. She’s a minor celebrity who obsesses over fashion and her various boyfriends. Beth (Sibulele Gcilitshana) is a schoolteacher; in fact, she’s the only black teacher at a prominent private girls school. She’s also a lesbian — but more on that later.
Sibulele Gcilitshana as Beth
Akua (Zandile Msutwana) is a banker and a real jet setter, while Lois (Sam Tyelbooi) is married and pregnant. She’s forced to turn down life as a doctor in order to accept being a wife and mother, a fact that she’s not terribly happy about.
Along with their friend Dineo (Vuyi Matomame), the ladies had formed a group called the ABCs (Angry Black Chicks) back in school, where they were best friends. However, they drifted apart in the intervening years, until Dineo actually commits suicide, forcing them to come back together.
It’s not an easy, low-key process, as one might imagine, and there’s a great deal of drama and unfinished business among them.
Though each character is a lead, we spend the most time with Beth, who lives with her partner Thuli (Ferry Jele). The film actually opens on them in bed, waking up on the morning of their third anniversary. They’re happy and in love, but it soon becomes evident that Beth is still living deep inside the closet (no thanks to the strict cultural norms and the oppressive atmosphere she finds at work), a fact that irks Thuli to no end.
When the four friends form a makeshift society to help Dineo’s mother with the funeral, Beth nervously introduces Thuli as her “housemate," and refuses to tell them the truth. She “de-gays” the house prior to a get-together, taking down a beautiful portrait Thuli made for their anniversary.
Thuli is understandably hurt and angered by Beth’s treatment, and she constantly calls for Beth to just come out to her friends. As the more experienced person in the relationship, she’s been down this road before.