Savage Beauty’s Grace reminds Nthati Moshesh of trials powerful women face

She has similar qualifications as her husband, Don who is chairman, and has shepherded the business into profitability, refusing to cut staff and family slack, in a bid to provide and retain security, while dealing with his many mistresses.

When the second season opens, she has begun to consider that her life could be more secure if she let off the weight that Don has dumped on her by playing strategically for the controlling shares of the beauty empire.

“The whole world of Savage Beauty at its core is about Don and Grace’s race to power. They are at war,” the actress, Nthati Moshesh, who plays Grace, told Pulse Nigeria recently.

It’s almost like two countries fighting with each other. There is an empire, a resource, and both of them are scrambling to get this resource. But Grace has learnt this man so well. She knows his weakness and strength. And she is able to manipulate his narcissism to her advantage.”

But among enduring fans of the show, Grace has been branded the familiar tropes that have trailed real-life women in similar situations; annoying, crazy, a pick me, pandering to a man, etc.

When the first season dropped on the streaming platform, one user on X declared, “Nobody annoys me more in Savage Beauty than Grace Bhengu. Just pandering to a man who doesn’t care about her. She’s so annoying.” Other users have been kinder, picking on her fashion choices and wigs.

In the court of public opinion, it may seem, she can barely win.

But playing Grace, Moshesh, who is 54 and has walked the path herself as a leading lady in South African cinema for decades, understands her character’s plight.

At the end of the day, it is a patriarchal society,” she said. “You have to put yourself in Grace’s shoes. She is dealing with a philandering man and what happens is the wives are going to get younger and younger. With that, the smaller the pie becomes, the empire diminishes. She’s fighting for her survival as a mother, a wife and a businesswoman. So she sees them as a threat and needs to take them out.”

For Moshesh, Grace will not have had life any other way than with her acrimonious co-dependent marriage to Don.

For every person in the fighting ring you need an opponent and Grace will not have an opponent except for Don. In her world, she needs a Don to play with, for her to realise her power,” she said.

Grace’s experience as a woman on the sideline comes to a fever pitch after Don claims at an event that he had built the empire alone. Her facial reaction was priceless. She had expected that he would have acknowledged her contributions to the growth of the company. So far in the series, he has not.

A lot of women do identify with Grace. A lot of women have been in positions where they have been overlooked,” she said.

She has the brains to do what he does. But because of her gender, she never gets what is owed to her. She is dealing with a lot, and isn’t that the same with black women? You wake up, you feed the kids, and you go to work. Now you need both incomes to survive and yet you’re expected to do so much more. The expectations of women are always far more than men, and that is the reality for a lot of powerful women out there. You go to work and you’re the MD but then at home, you have to be submissive to a Don Bhengu.”

Her sentiment is also echoed by the actor, Dumisani Mbebe, who plays Don.

He is pretty much aware of her input in building the empire,” Mbebe said. “But he just becomes this man whose judgement gets clouded by the idea of power, so much that he says things like, ‘I built this company without any help.’ He is drunk on the idea of power. Everything must be credited to him.”

But Moshesh takes pride in Grace’s excellent manipulation skills in navigating her situation. For her, it puts Grace at the top of the cat-and-mouse chase between the couple.

She uses her feminine wiles to get what she wants out of him because she has lived with this man long enough to understand that he is power-hungry. So she’ll play along. But she also knows that at the end of the day, she is just manipulating the situation for her own ends,” she said.

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