We Need A Serious Conversation About The Creative Industry’s Exploitative Culture

One of the biggest entertainment stories last week was the revelation by stylist Didi Simelane, popularly known as Didi Monsta, that one of the country’s premier artists, Cassper Nyovest, owes him over R60 000. This is for work done on Cassper’s #FillUpFNB concert and styling his music videos for Tito Mboweni and Baby Girl including additional work on his clothing store at Newtown’s The Workshop.

A creative crying wolf over monies owed to them is hardly a surprise in an industry infamous for its intellectual property theft and predatory culture. What makes this particular incident ironic, is that a persona who has successfully styled himself as a champion of the underdog and an inspiration to the youth, is the one seemingly using their position of power and influence to exploit a young black service provider. Instead of clarifying his position, Cassper has chosen to predictably shielded himself as a victim of his own success. The rapper has long used this manufactured victimhood to exploit his popularity by mobilising sympathy from his massive fan base.

Although much of the conversation has rightfully focused on calling the rapper out for not paying the stylist, once settled, we need to have a bigger conversation on how we’ve normalised this exploitative culture of using each other and abusing our positions to selfishly benefit from the ideas, time and effort of others. Exploitation is often framed as a right of passage.

Late last year, stylist Siya Beyile was accused of not paying models he used at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week; he has managed to continue as normal in spite of these legitimate accusations. A few months ago, media personality Bonang Matheba was also caught up in a similar accusation by a make-up artist; leading to creative agency owner Sylvester Chauke settling the bill on her behalf. Many more likely go unreported, and it is clear to see why this would be the case; bullying others into silence through access to resources, networks and influence is a common feature in creative spaces.

The creative industry being one of the hardest industries to break into, is filled with desperate, depressed and under-resourced young people in pursuit of their big break. It is understandable why anyone would jump at the opportunity to work with a person or brand that could offer a bigger platform to showcase their talent and skill; without thinking twice about putting protective measures like contracts in place. A lawyer being a luxury many in this sector can’t afford. To their own detriment, the majority can only afford to rely on verbal agreements and the assurance of those they work with.

It is for this reason that we need to look beyond legal agreements and services as the only solution to protecting vulnerable talent. To rid the industry of this culture, we need to create platforms that amplify the voices of creators to call out wrong doing and hold each other accountable, particularly established creators with means to galvanize for change, yet are the ones who often perpetuate it. For as long as Siya Beyile, Cassper Nyovest and others can afford to get away with non-payment and the like, we will continue to see more and more of this exploitation go unchecked. We need to do better.

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