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Kagiso Lediga honours female protagonists again in his espionage drama Classified

'I grew up with strong females in my world and perhaps it’s a subconscious thing'

Nombuso Kumalo Content Producer
Kagiso Lediga at the premiere of Classified
Kagiso Lediga at the premiere of Classified
Image: Supplied

Kagiso Lediga continues to honour strong female protagonists on the small screen with his latest project Classified.

As creator and showrunner, Lediga co-directed the show with Tebogo Malope (Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story) and Karabo Lediga. All three visionaries worked together on Queen Sono

The coming-of-age espionage drama debuted on Netflix on Thursday, starring Imani Pullum, Christine Horn, Sule Rimi and Paballo Koza.

I grew up with strong females in my world and perhaps it’s a subconscious thing”, Lediga said.

“I feel it’s a lot more interesting when you have female heroes, and audiences want to see that. I’ve always admired French filmmaker Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and Lucy), who also films action movies with female leads and I enjoy them. With the character Ella (Pullum), I thought of a little girl being put in that position and her vulnerability would be less apparent than if it were a boy."

Lediga famously helmed Netflix's first African original series Queen Sono in 2020, with another strong female lead played by Pearl Thusi. Queen Sono had its own set of tools and more action, whereas Classified is more of a drama," Lediga explained the difference between the two.

"This one is a family, young adult drama. It’s about the stakes of espionage and top-secret government information unfolding within small, personal relationships. It is based on the idea that small things can have huge repercussions."

Shoki Mmola at the premiere of Classified.
Shoki Mmola at the premiere of Classified.
Image: Supplied

Lediga once again wire-tapped on the expertise of Johannesburg-based production company Diprente, the high-action team behind the success of Queen Sono. He also collaborated closely with former CIA intelligence- officers-turned-experts of Spycraft Entertainment (The Walking Dead and Invincible) to bring this project to life. Lediga said the invaluable insight by these experts gave the story depth and aspects of real-life spy work.  

“What I wanted [for Classified] were grounded characters and storyline. Unlike Queen Sono, there was jumping through windows and beating people up –  a larger-than-life type of story. With Classified, I want it to be based on reality,” Lediga said.

“When people think CIA, they think bombs and guns, but real-life spy work is very painstaking and slow. It’s intelligence gathering and relationship building. Those guys assisted us mainly with the technical aspects of CIA; such as if you wanted to put a bug in their house, how would you do it. Also, relationship-wise ... how working in these types of jobs affected their families.” 

Sowetan attended the private screening of the show at The Zone cinema in Rosebank on Sunday, which slotted perfectly in the last day of the 6th Africa Rising International Film Festival (ARIFF).  

Seated in the reserved seats were Lediga, poet and activist Lebo Mashile (she has a role in the show), Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Ramabulana (Fatal Seduction), Lala Tuku (SABC head of local productions), Sthandiwe Kgoroge (Shaka iLembe) and the youthful cast of the show.

Paballo Koza at the premiere of Classified
Paballo Koza at the premiere of Classified
Image: Supplied

Slurping and munching on their complimentary popcorn and drinks, audiences were kept entertained by host Rami Chuene.

Set in the private world of Joburg’s elite 1% and dignitaries, the high-stakes series brings to life the story of 15-year-old activist Ella Gardner, who after drumming up trouble for herself, is mislead to relocate from Oakland, California and is relocated to Johannesburg to stay with her estranged father and secretive new step family. 

“She [Pullum] is powerhouse as a performer but she looks like a child. With Imani, when you put her in these high-stakes dangerous settings, I wanted the audience to feel like 'OMG, how can they do that with a child?' She captures that well. She is small in frame and has this child-like appearance, but she is also such an intense performer,” Lediga praised. 

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