Art should not be bound by barriers or language. The Hindi film industry is a testament to that. We speak only Hindi, but we premiere in Germany and Japan. Our films do phenomenally well there. We transcend the barriers of language and culture. We welcome you in. I think that’s what art should be, and I hope America reaches that place.
– Priyanka Chopra
As a creative by nature and profession, one subject I am passionate about is cinema. Not the brick and mortar definition but the art itself. The cinematic experience just like music which plays an integral part, shapes thoughts and perspectives, influences and dictates trends and ideas, educates, inspires and transcends cultures and racial barriers. In my opinion, it is the ultimate change agent. That is why, in the past, nations or groups that desire to change how the world perceive them have employed effectively the power of cinema. Some may call it propaganda, I would like to call it Perception management. And needless to say, the award of the country with the best use of perception management goes to the united states of America.
Now this brings me to the continent I was born in, Africa! A continent filled with stories and culture that will make any writer beam with inspiration.
The African narrative has long been that of a little child holding out her hand begging for food, drinking dirty water or staring at the camera, with tired eyes and flies hovering over her lips. Quick note: I am not writing anything new here but I believe more voices need to be added to the conversation.
Back to my write up: I once went to a media conference for children’s content producers in Sheffield a few years ago. I pitched an African action adventure animated series to a group of commissioners. They all liked it but they could not see it fit within their current slates. One of their feedback was, it needs to be more African. A few hours later, I was chatting with a couple of seasoned producers and when I recounted my earlier pitch experience, one of them said “well, I bet they were expecting lions, zebras and tribal warriors”. We laughed but he might have been right, because when I asked the network executives what is more African, they could not give a clear answer.
Africa hosts a large diversity of cultures, languages and ethnicities. And this unique diversity lends itself easily to multiple narratives. Narratives that can fit into any film genre. At the moment, Nigeria is the country with the most film exports on the continent. The Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is currently churning out one major sub genre: Slapstick Comedy, and the audience for these films are mostly Africans and Caribbeans.
There are Nigerian filmmakers living in Nigeria that have explored other genres but as of this writing, slapstick comedy is king in Nollywood and this is driven by Nigerian box office performance. Other African countries have tried to explore various genres and a few of their producers have secured notable international distribution deals but the global appreciation for cinema exports from Africa is still at its infancy and has been this way for decades. The growth does feel stunted as recognition of African stories in film tends to lean more towards social commentary or biopics of late African leaders which in most cases are produced and financed by studios and groups outside Africa.
Great cinema transcends international barriers. Case in point, South Korean cinema is unapologetic in it’s narratives and visual storytelling but the quality of some of their films have propelled their art to a coveted platform. Same with Russia, China etc. Some cult classics from these countries have been remade by Hollywood and understandably so, after all, they are cult classics.
Africa has the talents (home and abroad) and stories to create timeless global cinematic classics. But it starts with a great entertaining story, world class filmmaking and a boldness to tell and sell a different narrative. Action, Adventure and Horror genres are easy genres to market across borders because their stories tend to be universal regardless of the geographical and cultural location of the stories. A well made Nigerian, Ghanian, Kenyan, Ugandan or SierraLeonian action or horror film with the right cast will spark international interest beyond the current level of attention.
More films across such genres will definitely convert such interests to bigger commercial conversations and who knows a Hollywood remake of a Ghanaian or Nigerian film.