#10Q: Meet Sunu Gonera, Afrofuturist and storyteller
Sunu Gonera is an acclaimed commercials director and filmmaker making his mark in Hollywood. He was part of Design Indaba’s Afrofuturist project in 2018. Gonera has directed feature films along with episodes for acclaimed series, 13 Reasons Why, Madame Secretary and Snowfall. Zimbabwean-born and South African educated, locally he is best remembered for his work […]Friday, 28 Feb 2020
Sunu Gonera is an acclaimed commercials director and filmmaker making his mark in Hollywood. He was part of Design Indaba’s Afrofuturist project in 2018. Gonera has directed feature films along with episodes for acclaimed series, 13 Reasons Why, Madame Secretary and Snowfall. Zimbabwean-born and South African educated, locally he is best remembered for his work on commercials for Absolut Vodka, Metropolitan and Coronation. His One Source music video with Khuli Chana for Absolut Vodka won a Gold at Cannes and several other awards and is what set him on his African odyssey to discover his tribe. He was emotional taking to the Design Indaba stage to talk about his 15-year project to get his short film Riding with Sugar made into a full-length feature film, after over 1000 rejections. He is based in the United States. Riding with Sugar will be launched in Africa in June and marketed as an African film.
1. What did today mean to you?
Surrender. To the tribe. Because there is no one I want to please more than Africa. Because the rest of the world can criticise and no matter what happens, Africans get to see what I was trying to do.
2. The Absolut campaign marked a turning point?
The last time I was at Design Indaba was in 2018 to talk about the Absolut Vodka campaign, One Source, with Khuli Chana. The Khuli Chana project took me across Africa with Absolut Vodka. That gave me a glimpse of our depth and uniqueness as Africans. I wanted more. I wanted more of our people.
3. You talk about your awakening?
That campaign I felt I found my voice and was given creative license by the agency [Native VML].
I’m seeing this awakening in Africa. We are telling our stories in our own voice. The world sees us now, if you think of the success globally of Black Panther and that the campaign for Absolut went on to win awards at Cannes. We are a people that think differently. That project allowed us to show Africa and I realised our opinion matters.
4. What have you been working on recently?
I directed two episodes on the fourth and final season of 13 Reasons Why; and I’ve been working on Madame Secretary. I’m being approached to do a lot of television shows.
5. Any more brand ads?
Coronation in 2017 was my last advert. My focus now is on television and film. Advertising is my home, it’s where I started, but it has to be projects where one can create worlds. I’m a storyteller. Film is a collaboration and things evolve. I want to work with other artists. I love it when something just runs and the actors do their thing and I do my thing and it works. That’s delicious. Collaboration is one of my biggest passions. We can’t do it alone. It takes a tribe.
6. What is your creative process?
No matter if I’m working on Snowfall, Madame Secretary or 13 Reasons, when I work into a room, I walk in as an African. I expect to be heard as an African. This is my experience; how can I help to make your project better. The joy of that when you stand up and collab with people and the freedom you’re given and people hearing you, and you bring your style and aesthetic, we are being seen for who we are, we are no longer the forgotten, dark continent. We are part of the magic, part of the solution.
7. How will you change the world?
By doing it myself. And turning around and looking at other people and locking arms with them and telling them they can do it too. I’ve made my film; it now belongs to Africa. I was the incubator who was given this dream and story.
8. Do you have a life philosophy?
I dream big dreams because small dreams will not stir your soul.
9. How do you inspire others?
Telling my story. And telling people that their story matters. It doesn’t matter what race, colour, creed, status; for me, people are people and I’ve always just loved people. The joy from growing up in the townships – it’s a privilege of that struggle. It opens you to passion and empathy and compassion. That place of identity and belonging and that it’s okay to be who you are. You matter. Your story matters.
10. What is your superpower?
Making people smile. Connecting with people.
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