Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Clickbait -- On Generations' Wandile Radebe

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Chiedza "Chi" Mhende as Wandile Radebe
When the third Radebe brother debuted on the spinoff of South Africa's favourite soapie – the show formerly known as Generations - No Disclaimer --, I wasn't paying much attention. He was good-looking enough, if boyish. He had a funny accent and a tender way about him. I was too pre-occupied with Nkululeko Tshirumbula's turn as the second Radebe brother, Vuyo. It was interesting to watch Tshirumbula because I had no idea, while he was on Muvhango, that his acting could reach this depth. His Gundo seemed like rock bottom but his Vuyo proved there is a level lower.

The first time I took a second look at the Wandile Radebe character was when my sister related to me a rumour from her high school that Wandile Radebe is played by a woman. The character had always presented male to me on screen, a beautiful boy. So i thought, oh the actor is trans! Maybe he had been in a newspaper talking about transitioning and his trans experience. You know how we are all still learning about gender. Good on Generations!

But after a while the story became clearer (again through the grapevine): they were not trans but the actor was definitely female identified, by herself. "But she's on TV playing a boy so maybe lesbian?" the conversation shifted. From where I was sitting, the show formerly known as Generations was still winning. THEY HIRED SOMEONE WHO DEFINITELY WASN'T A CISHET BRO TO PLAY A BOY ON TV. What a time.

Generations - The Legacy is a soap so, of course, after a while a sensationalised storyline began. Every scene with the Radebe clan was thick with "OH BY THE WAY WANDI HAS A SECRET." As it got clearer, which only took a scene or two because Generations has never been subtle or did mystery well. I started to feel ill.

In the first few weeks, the story was that Wandi is a bro who enjoys wearing women’s clothes – meh, just writing that makes me bored by the gender binary as it applies to self-presentation. But, if the last two episodes leading up to Zola Radebe's death are anything to go by, Wandi Radebe is likely trans. There was a scene where Wandi tells their father -- after recovering a "supressed memory" from childhood -- that their current body and representing as "male" has never felt right. In the memory, Zola Radebe, frothing at the mouth, hurled snatched them from their mother’s shoes and smudged their lipstick saying, “this is not normal!”

A month or so ago, when they began navigating the minefield that is trying to figure yourself out in public, the writers of the soap quickly grabbed the violence plot device. They have been assaulted and (including a cruel scene in which their father slaps them) and have been disonwed. 

Regardless of Wandile Radebe or Candice’s identity, the story has been shaped by cis heterosexual normativity. The only reason a female identifying actor was hired to play the role was never to subvert popular convention. It was never to hire a woman to play a man just because.

Rather, the show’s producers and writers wanted the character to look cis in a dress and wig. I felt betrayed when I realized this because, for a moment, I had suspended all past fuckups by the show because I wanted to believe that Generation – The Legacy was beginning to care about the communities reflected in their stories. That they were beginning to abandon all harmful tropes. Had this been a storyline meant to empower the LGBTQ+ community and and educate us cisters, the show would have cast a trans actor -- if in fact Wandile is trans. They would have written better stories.

Anyway, the character hasn't quite identified themselves so this doesn't feel so much like dead naming.
I was clickbaited and I fell for it. Hard.

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