Queen Sono will gain attention for being Netflix’s first African original series. It certainly deserves attention for breaking barriers in Netflix’s programming, but that is far from the show’s greatest achievement: Queen Sono is one of the best originals Netflix has released in years. In six episodes, the series does more than diversify the spy genre, it expands the very nature of it. Beyond providing representation, it proves that diversity in television is most successful when cultures are allowed to make classic tropes their own. Queen Sono isn’t “Alias but Black” or Black girl James Bond: It’s a carefully crafted, visually brilliant drama that examines everything from Black female independence to the impact of white colonialism on Africa. With 45-minute episodes, Queen Sono never falls victim to Netflix’s usual “bloat issue”; the plot moves at a near perfect pace, balancing the emotional complexities of the show’s heroine, Queen, and the complexities of African politics.
The show follows Queen Sono as she traverses across Africa, stopping terrorists on behalf of secret spy organization, the Special Operations Group (SOG). She’s also searching for the truth behind her army revolutionary mother’s assassination. Series creator Kagiso Lediga’s script allows Queen to be imperfect and damaged, crafting her into a compelling central figure rather than some mythical Black superwoman here to save everyone. While it’s clear Queen is a skilled, trustworthy fighter and spy, she’s plagued with personal insecurities and doubts that make her relatable. Pearl Thusi approaches the character with a necessary toughness that gives more weight to the few moments when Queen lowers her defenses around friends and family.
The show also owes its success to a superlative ensemble, as Queen is assisted by her SOG colleagues. South African comedian Loyiso Madinga plays Fred, who softens Queen’s serious demeanor with needed moments of levity. Fred isn’t just comic relief, however, and Madinga has no problem pushing into dramatic territory as he attempts to solve his own family mystery. And Chi Mhende’s Miri isn’t just Queen’s stern and responsible gal pal. The show takes the time to explore her dissatisfaction with traditional gender roles as she’s secretly the director of an entire spy organization, but plays the role of a happy housewife at home. Both of these characters could have come dangerously close to presenting as caricatures of sidekicks, but Queen Sono finds more wealth in giving them their own lives and stories. While Queen brings all of these characters together, she is hardly what makes them interesting.
This depth of character allows Queen Sono’s central conflict between the SOG and a security terrorist firm to succeed. The series’ villainous duo, Shandu and Eterkarina, actively plot violent attacks, but still manage to gain sympathy as their political values and morals are tested. Vuyo Dabula is particularly strong as Shandu, a militant revolutionary who first fights for independence, but slowly becomes corrupted by his need for power. Dabula brings a sincerity to the role that makes him fairly unpredictable. Kate Liquorish handles female anti-hero Eterkarina with a coolness that makes it hard not to root for her as she breaks the glass ceiling of international terrorist organizations and speaks multiple languages while doing karate.
Queen Sono makes it clear that there is a right and wrong, but it does a beautiful job of digging into the nuanced gray areas of its characters and settings. The show travels across Africa, but never loses grip of its story. Title screens featuring vibrant, expansive shots of locations like Johannesburg, Kenya, and Lagos help keep the narrative centralized even as characters jump from location to location. While the show does use a “One Africa” lens in examining some issues like corruption and Black empowerment, it doesn’t seek to solve these problems; rather, Queen Sono is highlighting the political reality in which these characters exist. Politics aren’t secondary to the show’s spy antics—they’re detailed and necessary in a way that feels reminiscent of The West Wing or Homeland.
Queen Sono is thrilling and fun to watch, and while there are plenty of classic spy tropes to keep it firmly planted in the genre, it’s absolutely unique in its focus. With gorgeous costuming and a colorful soundtrack, there’s little the show gets wrong. Queen Sono makes sure to grab your attention and never lets go.