Country Queen Review
Kenya's first original Netflix series sheds light on the illegal gold mining occurring in Kenya and other African countries but it's not without its shortcomings.
With its first Kenyan original series titled Country Queen, Netflix keeps expanding its presence in Africa, one of the most exciting and niche corners in the global entertainment industry. Country Queen, which stars Melissa Kiplagat as (Akisa), Melvin Alusa as (Kyalo), and Nini Wacera as (Vivienne.), is a drama that tells the story of Akisa, a young woman who left her home in the country to look for success in the city. However, when her father falls sick, she returns home and discovers that an unscrupulous mining company is poisoning the people. It is there that she makes a stand to save her town and herself.
Country Queen’s major focus is on shedding light on the illegal gold mining occurring in Kenya and other African countries as it opens with an aerial view of Tislanga in Kenya and the concrete landscape of Nairobi in Kenya. While many African countries are considered developing nations, they are blessed with an abundance of natural resources. All those riches have never been used to improve the lives of ordinary people, but to fill the pockets of corrupt politicians and businesspeople. Pencil thieves instead of gun thieves. As such, this type of story becomes essential as it reveals true and unique African stories in an exciting new voice and medium.
Directed by Vincent Mbaya, the series is timely and important, as it speaks to the current critical transitional stage in Kenya’s political and economical climate. Mbaya managed to create a complex story of intermeshed interests filled with family drama, trauma as well as a ton of unfinished murky business alongside a cast of well-drawn characters ready to play out the storylines set up in the entire series.
A tale of going home to face past hurts and do unfinished business creates unique twists in plot lines, as in Country Queen. Akisa, the lead character, has become successful in Nairobi and is on the verge of making her company big. She is unfortunately tied to Maxwell, and the personal and business issues involved with him are likely to put an end to her business. In the meantime, Akisa must deal with the rift in her family. As much as she wants to, she can't get past what was taken from her eleven years ago. The drama begins to amplify when she's sucked into the village after her father's health deteriorates. She’ll have to deal with Kyalo, her longtime love interest in TIslanga who is currently engaged to Anna (Sheila Munyiva), who has never met Akisa. But there’s also Maxwell and his multiple interests, including the avaricious Vivienne.
Melissa Kiplagat always brought it back to earth with her performance as Akisa. Her face is expressive and shows the strength that Akisa needed to have to leave her family, go to the big city and become a success. She may be the show’s lynchpin, but there’s more than enough going on during the first episode to set up lots of interesting story possibilities.
The show is, however, not without its hiccups. Although it is directed in a very competent manner, the visuals don't seem to complement the story properly. There appears to be close to no camera work or deliberate cinematography in the first hour or so of the show. Rather, what we see is a lacklustre colour grading of the final edits, which shows washed-up, flat colors in most episodes. Because of this, Country Queen is not very appealing visually. Also, the performances are a little wonky. The show delivers its dialogue in a mixture of both English and Swahili. While this isn’t a bad thing in itself, the delivery wasn’t seamless. More often than not, the English lines feel quite unnatural. This had nothing to do with their accents, it was more about the delivery. When viewed as a whole all these tiny issues make the show feel slightly amateurish.
Regardless, It's a great first step for Kenya to get one of its stories on streaming services, and while there's room for improvement, it's still an exciting development. We can only wait and see what Kenya and other African countries have in store for us. The future looks very exciting.