Director Jabu Newman from Romance speaks to (not at!) Gen Z in sexual health campaign

Jabu Newman’s latest campaign #ForeverWena is an unashamed, unafraid story about sexual health and choice. Cementing her reputation as a director who is fluent in speaking to the youth, Jabu has crafted a portrait of South Africa’s Gen Zs that feels unique, personal and genuine. Showcasing a stunning range of sexuality and sexual exploration, the campaign #ForeverWena is a celebration of sexual diversity with zero judgement or shame, AMEN!

Jabu worked alongside the Ogilvy South Africa team with editing by Left Post and music by Tiger Fight to bring the #ForeverWena campaign to life. Chief Creative Officer, Kabelo Moshapalo says, ‘The #ForeverWena film flips the script on traditional PSA narratives, targeting a Gen Z crowd notorious for tuning out. Jabu’s dynamic and modern storytelling injects vibrant, relatable energy, making important messages digestible through slick visual motifs and performances. It’s a fresh, immersive watch every time.’

Watch the commercial below:

Jabu Newman ‘#ForeverWena’

We spoke to Jabu about how she tapped into this new generation to impactfully talk to them about sexual health.

Director Jabu Newman

IDIDTHAT: Tell us about your intention behind the #ForeverWena campaign?

Jabu: In the past, HIV and AIDS campaigns often relied on scare tactics, but there’s been a significant shift. Now, it’s crucial to convey the message that HIV is no longer a death sentence; significant advancements in medical treatments have made it possible to effectively manage the virus. Therefore allowing individuals to live long and healthy lives. This messaging is paramount. Equally important is understanding our audience – Gen Z is much more open to discussing sex, desire, and passion, but they may not be aware of all the options available for maintaining their sexual health. I aimed for this campaign to resonate with them in their own language, emphasising how simple and essential it is to incorporate sexual health into their lifestyle. Just as they prioritise their mental and physical well-being, caring for their sexual health should be routine. The core message I wanted to convey is that by prioritising self-care, individuals can inspire others to do the same, thus contributing to collective well-being.

IDIDTHAT: These commercials aimed at Gen Z’s just keep coming your way and you’re hitting them out the park. What’s your secret to talking to this audience?

Jabu: The Gen Z audience is perceptive and socially aware. They see through pretence as quickly as they scroll through TikTok, and it’s essential to connect with them on their terms – never talking down or being condescending. Both the agency and client showed great respect and trust in myself, the team, and the cast. They understood that this perspective couldn’t come from an outsider; it had to be someone who truly comprehends and respects this demographic. This is the kind of work I strive to create – centred around South African youth culture and committed to authenticity.

It was crucial for our films to showcase the full spectrum of sexual health choices, from love and romance to the more intense aspects of sexuality like desire, passion, and sexual exploration. However, we also recognised the importance of acknowledging the older audience – parents and elders who play a significant role in shaping the narrative around youth decisions. While our approach was honest, we maintained a sense of tactfulness, avoiding sensationalism or gratuitousness.

Behind the scenes on #ForeverWena with Director Jabu Newman

IDIDTHAT: The casting feels so authentic. Where did you find your characters?

Jabu: This generation has grown up in selfie mode, understanding the power of sharing their stories and how living authentically can inspire others. Keeping this in mind, we conducted an open casting and street casting as much as possible, aiming to discover and empower individuals who genuinely embody the experiences our film delves into. We had a clear idea of the people and sexualities we wanted to represent, so once we had our performers, we could shape the characters around them and their personal experiences. The cast was extraordinary. By casting them for who they truly were, they felt comfortable, allowing them to bring depth and authenticity to their roles and scenes.

IDIDTHAT: So how much did you work with the performers to collaborate on creating the story?

Jabu: It was fascinating to develop stories around the existing sexual health and awareness in Johannesburg. Nearly half of our cast identified as pansexual, highlighting an openness to discussing and exploring sexuality. However, many may not be fully aware of options like PrEP and how to use it, or the availability of at-home HIV testing kits at stores like Clicks. Therefore, we collaborated with our main characters’ cast to provide them with backstories and discussed how to incorporate sexual health practices into everyday scenarios they might encounter. This approach allowed us to depict everyday moments where individuals make informed sexual health choices.

IDIDTHAT: There were a lot of intimate onscreen moments shared between some of your cast. Considering many of them weren’t actors how did you get those performances from them?

Jabu: The entire crew approached the subject matter with great sensitivity, and we had an Intimacy Coordinator on set – a professional who understands the nuances of consent between actors. I would discuss the different scenes I wanted to shoot with her, and she ensured that everyone understood what the cast was comfortable with revealing and portraying on camera regarding their sexuality before we began filming. We also had discussions about how their families and the entire country might perceive the content, and how that made them feel – all of which required their consent. Ultimately, we recognised that their lives extend beyond this commercial, and we had to consider the potential repercussions for them. We made a point to cast individuals who were proud to be part of this project, and willing to step forward and support its message.

IDIDTHAT: Why do you think this spot meant so much to you personally?

Jabu: I’m particularly fond of the concept of empowering Gen Z to recognise that these are choices they need to navigate. We’re not dictating which choices they should make; that’s determined by their own experiences, culture, and sexuality. However, presenting them with the available options and celebrating that diversity is crucial.

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Executive Producer: Helena Woodfine
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Produced by the IDIDTHAT Content Studio – Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

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