Mmabatho Montsho on black women owning their sexuality

Actress, director and producer Mmabatho Montsho is the mastermind behind a new South African 10-part web series, "Women on Sex", where real black women speak candidly about sex and the impact it has on their lives. We spoke to her about it

Please tell us about the web series and how the idea came about?

It was sparked by conversation on sexual purity I had with my bestie. I was feeling particularly indoctrinated and felt I didn’t know where my on thoughts on sex began and the church influence ended. I was curious as to whether or not other women experienced this conflicts and if we as a country had our own interpretation of sexual liberation. There were so many questions I wanted to ask as many women as I could and put their answers on record. One of our duties as filmmakers is to hold a mirror up to society and as one who navigates the world in a black female body, it’s my duty to create progressive black female-centered content that disturbs the status quo.

Why is it important for women to start speaking openly about their sexuality, especially in SA?

So that we may conscientise each other. We live in an anti-woman, sexually oppressive society and that has to change. When we talk openly about sex, we begin to reevaluate our relationship with it and, as women, we begin to own it. It’s not only that we should speak about it, it’s also how we speak about it that makes all the difference. When black women are given a platform to talk about sex, it’s usually as helpless, injured beings. We need to challenge that tradition and be on record talking about sex, not as victims, but as smart, articulate people who critique and have a position on the topic.

READ MORE: Women finally get a “Viagra”

What are some of the themes we can expect to be explored in the coming episodes?
The relationship between sex and money; sex and culture and sex and liberation, to name a few.

Is there a particular reason you opted for a web series instead of a broadcast? What were some of the challenges you faced?

After posting the first teaser online, I was invited by two TV channels to air the series. There were suggestions around changing the concept to fit TV and the integrity of the concept was being compromised. Remember, television is a very male-dominated platform and that affects the tone of projects. I do hope to find a comfortable agreement with a broadcaster that would keep the spirit of the series alive while serving a TV platform’s needs. The series would reach greater audiences and have more impact.

Is the web series trend a growing one in the South African film industry and what are some of the pros and cons to using this medium?

I don’t know if it’s a growing trend in SA, but I do know it is growing globally. The challenges are building and sustaining an audience. That’s a challenge for any platform really. My personal concern are those who cannot afford to watch online because of either the expensive data rates, low network reception or both. Access is still an issue. So the dissemination of smartphones and free Internet have the potential to radically transform society, as long as progressive filmmakers like myself occupy that space. The great thing about the web is that the series will live beyond TV time slots and we don’t have to censor ourselves.

You feature the likes of Khanyi Mbau, Refiloe Mpakanyane and Masasa Mbangeni. How important was the selection of women in driving the conversation?

It was very important! It’s a balance of well-known and unknown women to achieve an everyday experience of all women, regardless of who and where they are. I wanted to feature diverse women with different demographics, sexual orientation and beliefs to illustrate that women across the board face the same sexual issues because of their gender.

READ MORE: 5 power foods for women

What are you hoping South African women can learn from the series?

That we “wake” each other up and insist on our right to be sexual beings on our terms, in ways that serve us. That we own our bodies – we belong to ourselves before we are mothers, daughters, lovers. If we can remind each other that we are not yet free, perhaps we’ll begin to fight for that freedom.

How has the series been received by viewers and were you surprised at the response it’s received?

It’s been received well, thankfully. There was a day when two big radio talk shows were discussing episodes one and two simultaneously. That was cool. There is still plenty room for growth though, more publicity and what-not. My hope is for the series to grow beyond me, and beyond SA.

Watch episode one, which explores virginity, below: 

Keep up with the series here.