By John Ugbe
Africa’s star is rising. The continent is taking its place on the global stage as demand for our unique and exciting contribution to the world increases. Africa’s presence is finding expression in numerous fields but in few areas has it been as pronounced as in the creative arts and entertainment. We were excited to see our cultures taking pride of place in movies like Black Panther and in Beyonce’s extended video for Spirit + Bigger. Listening to Sam Smith’s My Oasis featuring Burna Boy (who just won a Grammy) does warm our African hearts. These are real signs of African achievement and an acknowledgement of the rich culture that has inspired people in so many other parts of the world.
Authentic representation matters: global audiences are hungry for new voices and being positively acknowledged at home and abroad inspires us to create even more. However, these are small steps as there is a lot to be done for Africa’s true potential to be realised. While seeing ourselves on screen is certainly progress, it is not yet true representation because it is mostly through the eyes of others.
It is unbelievable that our pre-colonial history is barely told from our perspective. The stories of Vikings, Columbus and many western historical dramas have been used to educate audiences while so many of our stories remain untold. There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that we see ourselves accurately reflected in the content that we consume and that’s where we as consumers, producers, broadcasters, teachers and as a community have roles to play.
Much as Africa is underrepresented in the rest of the world, there is still room for African content to be shared on Africa’s own media platforms. At MultiChoice, we are proud to be a part of this journey, helping to create platforms and make investments that support this evolution. As content producers, we understand how critical it is that we not only tell our own stories but that we do so using the highest possible standards and production values. We need to be the best we can be for our audiences who deserve nothing less and are highly appreciative of the added enjoyment that quality, locally resonant storytelling provides. Quite rightly, they are also unforgiving of anything that falls short of the high standards they have come to expect.
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To help realise this vision, we have taken a “hyperlocal” approach, producing relevant content within the respective regions of our continent, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all strategy with generic African and international content. A hyperlocal approach to content creation also often makes business sense, as even commoditised American studio content is expensive when it must be paid for in US dollars.
In our audiences, we have found an almost insatiable appetite for authentic local content. The more local entertainment we offer, the less international content audiences choose to watch! It’s worth remembering that even American content is “local” in the US. The fact that it travels internationally is largely because audiences have become accustomed to it after decades of the US intentionally building and driving demand for their language and culture.
African audiences like others across the world, respond enthusiastically to seeing themselves and their communities represented in home-grown productions done in their own languages. A few months ago, we launched the first Pan African lifestyle channel – Honey – which celebrates how we live, what we aspire to and brings style makers from across the continent to a single destination.
A rule of thumb is that content will be most successful when it reflects the values, culture and language of its audience. Home-grown, hyperlocal content strikes a blow against the homogenisation of culture by celebrating what makes us unique. At the same time, it creates opportunities for entire industries. Every time we create local content instead of simply purchasing foreign ones, hundreds of opportunities are created for African writers, actors, directors, producers, show-runners, caterers, stylists and others.
In Nigeria, Nollywood has started facilitating international movies, series and commercials. In other countries such as Kenya, Ghana and Uganda, similar nodes of creative and professional excellence are taking root. We look forward to a time when every country on the continent is producing world-class, authentic and locally relevant African content for its own audiences and the diaspora.
As we mark the UNESCO Africa Week with the theme “Peace, innovation and sustainable development in Africa” – we celebrate African excellence in all creative fields. Already, our fascinating, vibrant and powerful continent is reclaiming its rightful place on the world stage. The future looks even brighter as we strive to take African stories to the world. Let us all claim that place in the spotlight because our people deserve to see themselves reflected in our own content, produced by our own people.
* Ugbe, CEO MultiChoice Nigeria, contributed this piece in celebration of Africa Week
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