Captivated by South Africa’s creativity and fashion and influenced by her background growing up in Soweto, director Meja Shoba brings a playful vibrancy and a keen eye for aesthetics to the Ola! Films roster. Much like the rest of the team at Ola! (who are currently ranked the number 5th production company in Film by the Loeries, thankyouverymuch!), Meja is wonderfully irreverent while determined to subvert stereotypes and challenge assumptions. Here for it!
‘There is more to representation than showing a Gogo doing the washing.’
Meja Shoba’s work is colourful, fun and bold, and of her love of South African fashion and style and her deep connection to Soweto Meja says: ‘I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do than tell South African stories, especially those based in Soweto. It is a part of the country that is so full of life. Growing up in Soweto and still going back now I am always taken by the beautiful details; from the way people dress to how they hold a cigarette or drink a beer, it’s a sensory overload. There is more to representation than showing a Gogo doing the washing. For me, it’s about telling those nuanced stories by capturing South Africans being their unadulterated true selves, because the world needs to see these images.’
To fully appreciate Meja’s sensibility as a filmmaker is to get her well-travelled journey into filmmaking. Raised in Dube in Soweto, Meja spent much of her youth travelling and working abroad. She studied English, Creative Writing and Japanese in New York, after which she spent three years at Publicis New York as a Junior Producer. She then decided she’d rather be behind the camera and obtained her Masters in Film at UCLA. Cutting her teeth as an in-house director and writer at will.i.am’s studios, Meja returned to South Africa 4 years ago, knocked on her friends’ door at Ola! Films and said ‘Konnichiwa’ to commercials directing with the team!
Meja says of her experience as a filmmaker overseas: ‘I’ve always wanted to tell South African stories, but I never knew how much the rest of the world wanted to see our stories. South African storytelling deserves the world stage and by telling nuanced stories rooted in truth we can achieve that, even if that means challenging assumptions. Actually, especially if that means challenging assumptions!’
A few stills from Meja Shoba’s reel.
Quickie with Meja Shoba
Q: What is one thing that nobody knows about you?
Meja: Um, let me see…Oh, I bought a video camera when I was 14 and the return policy was 30 days. I shot my first short film (you definitely will not have heard of it) and returned the camera to get my money back. So yeah, I’m pretty badass haha.
Q: You’re also a screenwriter and you were on the team behind season 2 of Netflix’s Queen Sono? Where does your love of filmmaking begin?
Meja: As a kid I could spend an entire day at the movies, watching 3 or 4 movies in a row. Then I saw The Royal Tenenbaums and I said to myself ‘That’s it, I’m going to be a director’. I was obsessed how the fashion was such an integral part of telling us so much more about the characters, I love that, the idea that fashion can be so powerful in storytelling. I want to see more of that on our local screens. It was visually so bold and exciting. I also love taking the simple normal world and elevating it to be much more emotive, playful and dreamy.