That One Time: I Spoke to The Real Ones
When I got the chance to meet with Mbali, Bee and Iindirhe from the YouTube channel Real Ones SA, I first asked them about the meaning behind their name. Iindirhe immediately made it clear that being “real and unfiltered” is a top priority for them. They also wanted something catchy and familiar that would cross boundaries. It’s important to these women to reach as many people from as many backgrounds as possible. Mbali adds that the name works because it piques curiosity: people will be asking “Real Ones? Sifunuk’bona – why are they real?”
The realness of their video series comes from the way they present their daily reality in their vlogs. They are moving away from the standard vlogging style that focuses on one person sitting and talking straight to camera (similar to the “storytime” videos that are popular on YouTube today) and bringing something different and exciting: they are bringing movement. Showing themselves on the go in daily situations draws the audience in.
When they pick up the camera, they deliver straight facts, talking about feminism, sexism, #blackgirlmagic, patriarchy, the politics of hair, the struggles of upcoming artists and so much more. The series is how they walk their talk. As Iindirhe notes: “people say ‘you’re a feminist on Twitter, what are you doing in real life?’ This is how we’re proving it [to them]”.
They are documenting their regular conversations, and putting them out to the world, because they believe it is important to represent themselves and others like them. The Real Ones want to counter the idea that there are only certain people who are worth being seen. This is why YouTube works for them: it is a platform where everyone is free to be who they want to be. With YouTube they are able to express their ideals – those of truth, freedom, creativity and feminism – and find an audience that appreciates their work.
Relatability is another important aspect of the series and of the work the Real Ones do. They feel strongly that by being themselves – unapologetically – they are creating a space for others to do the same. In a lot of ways, the Real Ones are about community.
This is evident when they talk about their future plans. They hope to one day have enough reach and resources to start a creative collective that supports young black people trying to make it. The Real Ones are passionate about helping young black women to gain an audience and get support for their work, whether that is music, poetry, fashion blogging, writing or any other creative pursuit. It is clear that the Real Ones have a vision that they are trying to realise through their work.
This vision relates to the broader issue of vlogging and YouTube culture in South Africa. When I asked why Cape Town creators were dominating the YouTube scene, the women responded with a critique of Johannesburg’s creative community. Johannesburg’s fast-paced nature means that creatives don’t take the time to “sit down and conceptualise and create new lanes”. People want rewards and recognition with minimal effort.
Vlogging requires dedication, and so far not a lot of Johannesburg people have that. And this is what the Real Ones want to change: they want to consistently produce quality content, because they understand that YouTube is a viable – and valuable – platform.
The themes of representation, community and collaboration come up often throughout the interview. When asked about the future of Real Ones, the women confirm that they will be moving and working as an entity well into the future. They aspire to create and promote their own work, as well as provide support for other creatives under the name Real Ones.
After my interview with Bee, Mbali and Iindirhe I was excited to see what they come up with in future. They are intent on showing the world that to be a young black woman in South Africa is to have access to an unlimited potential. You can be, do, say and create anything you want, and it will be valuable and important. In their videos, they show that women are multi-dimensional: they are adamant about resisting the boxing in of young black women.
The Real Ones are living their lives out loud and in full colour. They have inspired me to try each day to do the same.