The Hot Zone
National Geographic Channel (DStv channel 181)
3 out of 5 stars
Based on the bestselling 1994 novel of the same name by Richard Preston, new six-part National Geographic series The Hot Zone tells a cautionary tale of when the feared Ebola virus appeared in a group of chimpanzees in Washington, DC, US.
Hitherto an exotic disease that had only been known to affect people in the deepest reaches of Africa, the 1989 Ebola scare brought the deadly disease, which causes victims to bleed out from every orifice in their body, to the world’s attention.
Although the series is riveting, highly bingeable and stars the fantastic Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) and Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones), it’s got the same US-centric approach as the book.
Despite a yearlong Ebola epidemic currently raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has claimed 1 400 lives so far, and the worst Ebola outbreak ever (Guinea 2014, 10 194 dead), the show chooses to focus on a case in Washington.
Though The Hot Zone flashes back to fieldwork in the DRC that lead researcher Wade Carter (Cunningham) did to understand the virus, it primarily focuses on the work of Dr Nancy Jaax (Margulies) as she fights to ensure that Ebola does not spread in the US.
I suppose, given National Geographic’s audience, it makes sense that The Hot Zone would have American characters and an American setting, but it felt like a huge problem that I couldn’t quite get over during my viewing of the show.
However, if, unlike me, you can get over this ideological hurdle, you’ll find this an extremely satisfying watch.
From the pilot, you’ll get a terrifying glimpse into the destructive power of Ebola and how screwed we’d be if this virus ever evolved further than it already has.
South African actors Bohang Moeko (Ring Of Lies, Housekeepers) and Sive Mabuya (Scandal!, High Rollers) respectively make cameos as a doctor and nurse who deal with the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in Kenya – and their scene is a real humdinger.
One cannot force American producers working for American audiences to tell African stories. In fact, most of the time you don’t want them to. Which makes it all the more important that we start getting African productions with the budget and talent to tell our own stories. Until then, The Hot Zone is a high-end and satisfying glimpse into one of humanity’s most feared diseases. Your skin will crawl long after you’ve watched it.