Shaka Zulu is the story of the famed warrior king from Africa; Shaka from the Zulu tribe hailing from South Africa. It is an ten part drama which explores the life of Shaka from his birth to the fall of his empire and beyond. A drama, released during political turmoil in South Africa which over the years has been given a lot of attention because of this particular fact. Whether it is worth all the attention is up to the viewer and what they want to get out of the drama. If you are looking for a drama to enjoy it will give you plenty to enjoy or at least react to but if you are looking for a more historically accurate picture of Shaka and his life you may not want to rely too much on this adaptation.
The majority of the drama takes place in the early 19th century and is told from the viewpoint of white people who are interacting with Shaka and writing down his story. Based on a novel of the same name, which was based on Zulu oral traditions, it talks a lot about magic and prophecy which is said to have a direct impact on the story line. Shaka was born as an illegitimate son of the prince of the Zulu tribe. Later in life he comes back as a warrior to reclaim his rights. Becoming the ruler of the Zulus he then unites many of the tribes in the area, particularly in the north. Shaka reinvented what it meant to go to war for the African tribes and worked to become what he considered the most powerful man in Africa, and as he sees it-the world.
When looking at Shaka Zulu as a dramatic miniseries, it has many of the elements that make up a good one; political intrigue, romance, conflict (both within the characters and between them), and character development. There is also elements to bring out your emotions, whether wanted or not; war, brutality, cruelty, love, friendship, and sacrifice. Shaka Zulu also boasts beautiful scenery, all of which was shot in South Africa, and some wonderful interactions between the characters. Setting aside the historical background for a moment one can see how this is a successful miniseries. It must be said that there are times when it is hard to say whether a scene, particularly ones with the African tribes are being true to life or more racists in origin. This is a part of the time from which it comes. There was still much myth and folklore, as well as one sided thoughts, circling around the story of Shaka Zulu and this was bound to seep into the book and the movie; Shaka Zulu.
In terms of giving a more historically accurate account compared to the movies and series previous, it still falls a little short. Although it does try to give a somewhat more rounded picture of Shaka then may have been seen in the past, the drama focuses so much on the man that it ignores the aspects of the world around him. Not only is a human forged by the events in his life but also the climate of the world around him as well. There are scenes in which knowing a simple fact like Africa was in the middle of a drought during Shaka’s childhood would have made the scenes more powerful and help you to understand the lasting consequences on Shaka’s life. Although the scenes are powerful and the events castrophic in Shaka’s life, knowing the other facts surrounding it would really make it just devastating for the audience as well as the characters.
On a note, unrelated to the story itself, the music in Shaka Zulu is great. It has these wonderful African beats with some pretty intense singing to accompany it. I found myself sitting through the title sequence as well as the credits because the song was fun to listen to. The score of Shaka Zulu is just as good as the main song. It really helps to set the tone of the series and pull you into the events that are taking place.
Overall, Shaka Zulu is worth watching as long as you remember that there were many liberties taken, which happens during dramatizations, and it should not be taken as a historically accurate picture of the life of Shaka Zulu.