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Co-Productions within Africa and its Diaspora Can Encourage Self-Reliant and Sustainable Film Economies

Never make a promise you can’t keep. This is wise advice for networks and streamers looking to invest in African content.

Imagine the excitement when Netflix and Prime Video, in particular, announced their expansion and investment in Africa. Since 2016, Netflix is said to have spent $175 million on its investment in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, creating and releasing originals such as “Jiva!,” “Queen Sono,” “Blackbook,” “King of Boys: The Return of The King,” “Blood & Water,” and more. Prime Video’s exact number of investments has not been confirmed, but a number of films and series have already been teased, including the first Amazon Prime Video original from Africa, “Gangs of Lagos,” along with “She Must Be Obeyed,” and “Ebuka Takes Africa.” This was the start of more accessibility and, of course, more African stories. They promised to showcase the depth and breadth of our livelihoods! Our beauty! The colors!

As of 2024, Netflix is still holding strong, sharing that it has a full roster of new African content to roll out. There are complaints, however, that Netflix’s focus on commercial, IP-driven content from a handful of filmmakers leaves little room for artistic integrity and authenticity; rather, it simply checks predictable content boxes.

In an abrupt move, Amazon’s Prime Video has since cut funding, laid off staff, and decided to redirect their focus away from African originals and acquisitions. On exiting Africa and the Middle East and entering smaller European markets, Prime Video Europe VP Barry Furlong states: 

“We’ve been carefully looking at our business to ensure we continue to prioritize our resources on what matters most to customers. I have carefully evaluated our structure in the region and decided to make some adjustments to our operating model to rebalance and pivot our resources to focus on the areas that drive the highest impact and long-term success. I have listened and considered the feedback received across the teams over the past 12 months; I believe these changes will improve the operational running of our multi-territory business and allow us to be more agile and focused.”

Many African film producers who previously had a greenlight or were in the works found their projects and picture deals in the can, never to see the light of day.

Now what?

There are still studios that see the potential of Africa’s impact: streaming platform Showmax is widening its reach with NBC Universal, pushing to be Africa’s top streamer, while Multichoice has been acquired by Canal+ with billion (yes, billion) euro plans to broaden its presence globally.

Alternatively, here’s a crazy idea: what if we didn’t rely on Western investment for our creative industries? Intra-African collaborations and international partnerships can be phenomenal for combining resources, sharing expertise, and accessing broader markets. By encouraging co-productions within Africa and its diaspora, filmmakers can assert ownership, agency, and authenticity in their work.

For example, local filmmakers in Kenya partnering with those in Nigeria can share unique storytelling techniques and technical skills, enhancing the quality of their films. Additionally, South African filmmakers working with Ghanaian counterparts can combine financial resources to create higher-budget productions, making their movies more competitive internationally. How about Rwanda and Brazil? These collaborations enhance the creative process and ensure African stories are told with genuine perspectives and local nuances.

African governments also need to play along. Some countries, like Burkina Faso, Morocco, and Nigeria, have already started. Governments play a vital role in building their country’s filmmaking industry foundations through policy. Policy ensures a sustainability that is not wholly dependent on external investment. There are several ways they can do this: integrating film studies in education curriculums, investing in building and maintaining film studios, cinemas, post-production facilities, and equipment rental houses; supporting the establishment of ongoing film hubs and incubators, establishing national film funds to provide grants and low-interest loans for film projects, and also, fund and uplift platforms for filmmakers to collaborate, share knowledge, and co-produce films, to name a few. I hear Kosinima, Inc. is a GREAT organization to support and fund (shameless plug).

Africa and its diaspora have incredible reach and influence. Approaching each sector can be daunting, but formally established foundations will also encourage partnerships with private investors, brands, and corporations.

Before we get that far (going to slow our roll a little bit), ownership and self-reliance are key. Many Black talents understand this as well: Issa Rae recently secured investors to open her studio to support creatives, and filmmakers like Mati Diop and Idris Elba have started production companies Fanta Sy and Green Door Pictures/ 22 Summers, to champion the content they wish to see.

There are many challenges and obstacles to address, and Africa’s film industry (r)evolution must be natural and unique to how we operate. That said, Africa’s cinematic past and future has been and always will be undeniable. We have to believe in our importance without the validation of anyone else. We have to be willing to truly grow with each other. Film has always been a powerful medium for cultural preservation, exchange, and representation. Telling African stories from African perspectives is an act of decolonization, allowing us to control the gaze from which we learn.

We must take charge and own our stories. No matter where the wind blows, we know where the power will settle: In our hands, without waiting for an empty promise. 

Note: Header image from the Kosinima docuseries Soju.

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