When Netflix announced that it was releasing its first original African series, Queen Sono, last year, my interest was automatically piqued. With only a teaser featuring the series’ leading lady, Pearl Thusi, I’m talkin’ about Pearl Thusi (in Emtee’s voice), as my point of reference, I braced myself for a long 3 month wait. Is it the 28th of February yet? Is it the 28th of February yet? Eventually the anticipated date did come around and I binge watched the series over 2 days (relax, it only has six episodes). The verdict? Not bad, not bad at all. It started a little slow but gained momentum towards the end. What is more important, however, is that it got me thinking about the future of African entertainment.
So, it seems that Africa is making strides towards taking back its narrative. For a long time we shook our heads as the Western entertainment machine fed us the general “African accent,” and its interpretation of African history and cultures. It’s not that Africa wasn’t making its own content but that African content in its totality hardly seemed to be making a dent in the global entertainment industry. The 2010s brought about its changes, and the popularity of a fantastically futuristic, albeit fictional, African country called Wakanda contributed to increased interest in and spread of black narratives, and in turn an interest in the mothaland. African content has been gradually improving, particularly that of its entertainment powerhouse Nigeria which is trading its home videos for a film industry that produces better quality films with more…well…diverse storylines. The Africa entertainment industry is definitely on the rise as countries such as Nigeria and South Africa invest in their creative industries, and the African narrative is being amplified. We are still not where we want to be but now more than ever it seems clear that we will get there.
Here is one question; is the rising African entertainment and its narrative at risk of inadequately representing the continent? Although we are united in our Africanness, we have diverse languages and cultures. A continent with 54 countries seems to, at present, have two countries as the focal points of its entertainment industry, Nigeria and South Africa with a few others trailing behind. The amount of time, work and investment that these countries put into to developing the creative economies is admirable. Unfortunately, many other African countries don’t have the resources and sometimes commitment to do the same. Case in point, browsing randomly through the African movies and TV series on Netflix reveals that most of them are Nigerian and South African productions. South African and Nigeria entertainers and entertainment products are also crossing the Atlantic and gaining some well-deserved recognition, unintentionally, at the expense of those of other countries. A famous example of this is the Beyonce inspired and produced soundtrack to the revamped the Lion King, The Gift. There was some controversy surrounding the fact the artists featured on the album came largely from West Africa and South Africa in spite of the movie itself being set in East Africa. Let’s bring it closer to home. Although the hype around the web series Wadiwa WepaMoyo is in part due to the quality and sincerity of its production, it can also be explained by the hunger Zimbabweans have for their own content. Ultimately, a time must come when more productions from other African countries must take center stage as well.
Hopefully, the 2020s won’t just be about amplifying the authentic African narrative but it will also be about decentralising it among different regions in the continent too. Granted, not all African countries will ever produce content at a similar scale. We can’t all be entertainment titans but if more countries can share their stories, the richer our entertainment industry will be.