June 26, 2020

Made By Africans, Watched By The World

Netflix African Storytellers: ‘Our time is now. Our stories are being told by us. Our characters are travelling. Our voices are being heard by the world’

“For so long, our stories were told by people who found us interesting but had no idea what we looked like, what we really sounded like, or the lengths of our capabilities,’’ says South African Actress, Pearl Thusi on a not-so-normal Monday morning in Johannesburg, South Africa where 18 African creatives were brought together to celebrate a change in times.

Mo Abudu, a lauded female powerhouse, producer and director in Nigeria’s Nollywood industry echoes Pearl’s statement adding, “I’ve said it time and time again. Africa has remained creatively silent for centuries. It’s important that we are able to tell our stories and it is important to tell our stories in collaboration with global organisations such as Netflix.” Malenga Mulendema, Zambian writer and creator of Mama K’s Team 4, Netflix’s first Animation series shares Abudu’s sentiment saying, “It’s bigger than me. Our stories are more powerful when they are told by multiple African creatives”.

Kenyan-born Dorothy Ghettuba, who leads African Originals for Netflix, emphasises that “our aim at Netflix is to have stories that are made by Africans to be watched by the world. We are focused on giving our consumers in Africa, and globally, authentic African content. Having all of these incredible voices in the same room,  and on the same platform going forward, is something to celebrate.”

In 2020, Netflix has numerous projects from the African continent in various stages of production. Two South African Originals, Queen Sono and Blood & Water will both make a return for second seasons. The streaming service also announced another young adult title, Jiva! (SA) and the Untitled Akin Omotoso project from Nigeria. Additionally, Netflix recently confirmed an overall deal with Mo Abudu’s EbonyLife productions to create two Nigerian Original series and a number of Netflix-branded licensed projects from Nigeria. Two major highlights of this partnership are the on-screen adaptations of literary works by two critically-acclaimed Nigerian authors: a series based on contemporary author, Lola Shoneyin’s best-selling debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and a film adaptation of Death And The King’s Horseman, a play by world-renowned Nobel Peace Prize winning author, poet & playwright, Wole Soyinka.

Furthermore, Netflix has licensed more content from across the continent including Kalushi (South Africa), King of Boys (Nigeria), Potato Potahto (Ghana), Resgate (Mozambique) and Cook Off (Zimbabwe).  ‘’Great stories come from anywhere in the world and be loved everywhere and Africa is full of incredible stories that we finally get to share with the world,” states Nigerian-born Ben Amadasun, Director of Content Acquisition and Co-Productions for Africa. Ben continues “we have a wealth of fables that have been passed down from generations and Netflix has a great opportunity to bring those stories to the forefront, which will resonate all over the world.’’

Members can also enjoy a wide variety of series, stand-ups, documentaries and films from the continent which can also be easily discovered on the service by searching ‘Made in Africa’.  The service’s clear goal is to bring its global members only the best-in-class content in every genre – from Young Adult Drama, Rom-Coms, Animation, Comedy, and even Horror,  and has therefore acquired, commissioned, co-produced and licensed a diverse variety of content from African content creators and distribution partners.

Ghettuba builds on this, explaining ‘’for us it’s all about finding African storytellers with powerful yet-to-be-told stories and giving them the creative freedom and platform to share their vision.  Being able to bring all these African creatives together is beautiful. We’ve always had our stories told by others from the outside-in but this time, we get to tell our own stories from the inside-out.‘’

Kate Henshaw, Nollywood actress and a lead in the newly-commissioned ‘untitled Akin Omotoso project’ agrees saying, “I would say it’s about time… for our voices to be heard. Our strength is in the power of our own stories and being able to tell our own stories”. Maxwell Simba, an up-and-coming actor from Kenya who stars in the Netflix branded film, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind that is set in Malawi reiterates, “I feel like most of the time, our stories are told from the perspective of Africa being a single entity, but there is more to it.”.

“We have amazing talent and we haven’t had an adequate platform for a while to showcase our talent across the board,” adds Genevieve Nnaji,  actress, Director and Producer for Lionheart from Nigeria. “It’s a good thing, especially for upcoming artists who want a chance. We have so many more stories to tell in this part of the world.’’

Kagiso Lediga is a case in point – long before his work made it to the Netflix service,  he was making waves in the local entertainment industry.  He pioneered a number of firsts; from changing the local comedy landscape to writing and directing films and series.  Lediga proudly describes this moment as ‘’the first time that African storytellers are coming together to make their mark on a global stage.’’

There can be little doubt that 2020 is the year that African stories and creatives captivate a global audience. South African Director and Showrunner, Nosipho Dumisa, expresses the power of the moment perfectly explaining, “For us to be together in one space, on one platform, telling our stories for our people and being the ones in charge of everything, from creative direction to how we get it together – is incredibly special”. Chi Mhende, Zimbabwean actress and star of Queen Sono, believes “in order to appreciate great content, you don’t have to be from just one corner of Africa, or the world” – which Kunle Afolayan, famed Nigerian actor and filmmaker, reiterates saying “ I strongly believe in collaboration. I strongly believe in collaboration. I believe in pan-Africanism. It starts here”.

From Africa to the world, our time is now, African entertainment is for the taking.

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