No damsels in distress in Deep State

Fascinating female characters are centre stage in the second season of the international espionage drama series, Deep State.

“Women are incredibly important in this show, not just from the women’s own point of view, but also from the audience’s point of view.” So says actress Zainab Jah, who plays Aminata, the chief advisor to the president of Mali in season two of international geopolitical thriller and espionage drama series Deep State.

“You get to see female characters that are not just outlines or iconic, symbolic portrayals of women but they’re actually very complex and nuanced with strong storylines. We’re not just paying lip service to women in our show, they actually have the power and control,” the actress explains.

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In preparing for her the role, Zainab says she “really had to dive into this character and find out who she is and create her story and background by doing a lot of research – how she navigates the world of politics as a woman in what is normally a patriarchal society. I found myself reading and watching more news, especially African politics, especially women in African politics. It’s made me much more aware.”

Zainab’s character is just one of several prominent characters in the show who happen to be women, and even in dangerous situations, they don’t just become powerless victims. Lily Banda (The Boy who Harnessed the Wind) plays Aicha Konate, a young Malian translator who gets in way deeper than she expected. But, Lily told IOL, “Aicha is really brave and breaks down all barriers. She does not turn away from any problems.”

Not just a pretty face

None of that is accidental. FOX executive producer Sara Johnson told Timeslive, “It is refreshing and wonderful to have real humans on the page.” Of writer, showrunner and series creator Matthew Parkhill, she says: “Matthew never writes stage directions like, ‘She enters the room, chest heaving. Pause.” Thank goodness!

Having strong female characters is an issue that’s close to Matthew’s heart. “When my daughter was born, I became acutely aware of how women and girls end up getting a not-so-great deal in life a lot of the time, so I try and create female characters who are strong, who are powerful, who have their own storylines and aren’t just the girlfriend or the wife or the mother.”

“They are those things too, we have characters who are mothers and characters who are wives, but they have their own powerful storylines and it’s incredibly important to me the way we treat them visually. We have a lot of beautiful women on our show, but we’re not a show that puts them in figure-hugging clothes or tight dresses – we don’t sexualise them, they’re not there to be eye-candy for somebody else.”

“That goes for the makeup as well because if I can see it, it’s not real, unless that character has made a particular decision to do that. For example, one character is a senator and she’s on the Intelligence Committee and there are times she will put on makeup. But Leyla’s character, she’s on the run for her life – when are they going to go and find time to put on some makeup?”

Leyla is played by Karima McAdams who says she decided to take the role because her character “embodies a strong woman. She’s incredibly skilled in languages. She’s very capable. She’s very emotional, but she doesn’t let it get in the way of her work. Leyla doesn’t see the difference between women and men in her team. She doesn’t want to be mothered by anyone and I think that’s really important. I think she’s incredibly strong.” We think so too. And we can’t wait to see her mettle in season two.

Watch Deep State S2 on Wednesdays on FOX (125) at 20:45
Also available on Catch Up and to watch online with DStv Now »