Created by Ozgur Onurme, ‘Unseen’ is a South African crime thriller. It revolves around the story of Zenzi Mwale (Gail Mabalane), a seemingly unremarkable domestic worker. However, when her husband Max (Vuyo Dabula) goes missing, her life is turned upside down, and she finds herself smack in the middle of a world full of dangerous criminals, murders, and illegal plots. The same social treatment that had left her invisible now helps her blend and fly under the radar as she commits a series of murders and uncovers disturbing truths about her husband’s past. Though ‘Unseen’ is steeped in crime and drama, the difficulties and struggles that Zenzi faces oftentimes feel relatable on a deeper level. Viewers might wonder whether or not it has any base in reality. Here is everything we know about the origin of ‘Unseen.’
Is Unseen a True Story?
No, ‘Unseen’ is not based on a true story. Instead, it is actually based on another fictional crime drama called ‘Fatma.’ ‘Fatma’ is a Turkish crime drama with a similar premise as ‘Unseen.’ ‘Fatma’ revolves around its titular character, an ordinary cleaning lady who is looking for her husband. When her search continues to remain useless, she eventually finds herself committing numerous murders and getting away with them due to social prejudices and conceptions associated with her. The storylines of ‘Fatma’ and ‘Unseen’ are nearly identical. Both shows explore similar base concepts with protagonists that are constantly unnoticed and underestimated by society.
The respective protagonists of ‘Unseen’ and ‘Fatma’ exhibit a major dissimilarity between these two shows. While Fatma is a morally ambiguous character driven by revenge and anger, Zenzi’s sole motive behind her actions is her desperate desire to reunite with her husband. Though we do see Zenzi exacting revenge upon a few men who have wronged her in her life, she never actively seeks out that revenge. Most of the murders Zenzi commits— with the exception of Raymond— are haphazard and sudden. Likewise, the relationships Zenzi forms with people throughout ‘Unseen’ is also very different from what we see in ‘Fatma.’
However, the key characteristic that sets ‘Unseen’ apart from its Turkish inspiration is its commitment to the portrayal of an authentic South African story. ‘Unseen’ is produced by Gambit Films, a production company based in South Africa. Because of the show’s connection to Netflix, the cast and crew behind ‘Unseen’ is able to bring their lived, real experiences on a global platform in an authentic fashion. To see such a nuanced and entertaining story revolving around experiences different from what people usually see in pop culture is incredibly empowering. In an interview with 24, lead actress Gail Mabalane discussed this aspect of ‘Unseen.’ In Mabalane’s words, “Unseen is told through a very South African lens. We get to see a lot more and a different side of Cape Town. We get to see it very much within the South African context with the languages and the characters.”
Additionally, the show also strives for meaningful social commentary through its narrative. Ozgur Onurme, creator of ‘Unseen,’ highlights the lives of the people that go unnoticed by society. Onurme did an identical thing with ‘Fatma.’ With ‘Unseen,’ he further expands on the idea in a different geographical context. ‘Unseen’ also explores other social themes like flawed judicial systems, criminal exploitation of women and people living in poverty, and strained familial relationships. The attention and gravity granted to these issues provide deep insight and contribute vastly to this show’s authenticity.
The overarching theme of “unseen individuals” and their potential also feels factual because such people cross our paths on a daily basis. Most of the time, people working in the service industry or domestic workers like Zenzi are overlooked and go unnoticed. In the show, this attribute is discussed and explored by the character of Mr. Ngsei, a journalist and best-selling author. He notes the peculiarity behind the fact that most people like Zenzi are incredibly knowledgable about the people they work for, while their employers are largely ignorant of any detail about the worker’s life.
Ultimately, ‘Unseen’ is not directly inspired by any single real event or incident. The show is primarily based on the show ‘Fatma.’ However, other than that, the credit for all storylines and characters goes to ‘Unseen’s’ writers and creators, Daryne Joshua, Ozgur Onurme, Travis Taute, and Ahmet Vatan. Like ‘Fatma,’ this show also draws its inspiration from the common and ubiquitous experiences of people from different backgrounds. From the credible portrayal of a female character and her struggles to the sympathetic understanding of life lived in poverty, this show tells an authentic story by treating its characters with dignity and respect.
Read More: Where is Netflix’s Unseen Filmed?