Photo credit: AP Images

Film & TV

The Top 2023 Cultural Moments Across the Continent

Photo credit: AP Images

2023 marked the pinnacle of Africa’s cultural renaissance, showcasing its global rise and creativity across diverse forms

By Wale Oloworekende

December 2023

If African cultural cachet has been on the rise since the tail-end of the 2010s, 2023 was the year when it reached the peak of that global ascendancy across diverse forms, giving credence to the idea that Africa is at the cutting edge of global cultural inspiration and execution despite the structural issues confronting creators on the continent. From music to fashion, art, sport, and film, cultural output from the continent has made a huge leap in quality led by an eager diaspora keen to change the narrative surrounding Africa and help facilitate a humane and contextual understanding of the continent. 

 

At STATEMENT, we compiled a list of some of the moments that have piqued our interest and have deeper significance for Africa’s reputation as a future cultural powerhouse. 

 

Mami Wata’s International Success 

 

African cinema’s big year kicked off with C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s Mami Wata premiering at Sundance to rave reviews in January 2023. The movie, based on West African folklore, was a victory for indie filmmaking and picked up the Special Jury Prize in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance for its cinematography, and has continued to receive rave reviews across the world for its ingenuity and socio-political commentary. Additionally, Mami Wata has played in major cinemas in the United Kingdom, United States, and more since its theatrical release. 

 

Rema’s Historic Billboard Hot 100 Run

 

When Rema released his debut album, Raves & Roses, last year, it was seen as a major landmark for the Mavin star, who has been at the forefront of Afropop’s next-gen since his introduction in 2019. However, few would have predicted the global success of “Calm Down,” one of the album’s lead singles. After initially debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 2022, “Calm Down” has gone on to become Afrobeats’ biggest crossover hit and in June 2023, it hit a stunning peak of number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Additionally, the Selena Gomez-featuring remix of “Calm Down” has crossed over 1 billion streams on Spotify, joining the platform’s prestigious Billions Club.  

 

Amoako Baoafo’s New York Solo Debut With Gagosian 

 

This year, art from Africa made its big splash on the global stage, entering spaces that were previously considered out of reach for creative work from the continent. Earlier this year, Ghanaian visual artist, Amoako Baoafo, held a solo exhibition at the Gagosian New York titled what could go wrong, if we tell it like it is. Following in the footsteps of some of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, Baoafo’s showcase, which featured large-scale portraits commemorating friendship and black identity, was a groundbreaking moment for African art as it’s one of the few major galleries to showcase an exhibition by an African-born artist. It was also the first time a major gallery would collaborate with an African artist to stage a show in Africa with Baoafo’s showcase coming to dot.ateliers, his artistic space in Accra following its display period in New York. 

 

Tems’ Dress At The Oscars 

 

The Nigerian singer was nominated in the Best Original Song category at the 95th edition of the Oscars that took place in March 2023. Tems turned heads with her ethereal white gown from LA-based Lever Couture. A prominent feature of the dress was its headgear, which was deemed to be obstructing the view of other attendees in the gallery by many on social media, and it sparked a debate on whether it was an appropriate dress for the Oscars. This turned out to be a nice moment that emphasized the star power of Tems and the social media currency of Nigerians and Africans in general. 

 

Kamala Harris’ Visit To Vibrate Space 

 

Since its Year Of Return campaign in 2019, Ghana has steadily become the location of choice for members of the black diaspora looking to rekindle their ties to the continent. This year, United States Vice President Kamala Harris visited the country, becoming the Biden administration’s highest-profile official to visit the continent. And in recognition of the rising power of African culture, Vice President Harris stopped at the Vibrate Space in Accra, a creative spot where she held court with some of the country’s most innovative stars like Black Sherif and Amaarae. Her decision to visit highlights the growing appeal of African youth culture in the Western world, and represents the biggest intersection of Africa’s cultural scene and political authority in the West. 

 

Grammy African Category Announcement 

 

Beyond just breaking into the American market, receiving Grammy nominations has always been the preeminent goal for Afrobeats acts eager to make their mark on the global music scene. Over the years, several African acts like Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Black Coffee have received Grammy Awards in a number of categories. However, the continual nomination of African acts in the Best Global Music category was frustrating for many African music fans. In June, the Grammys announced the addition of a Best African Music Performance category ahead of the 2024 edition of the awards, showing the growth of African music.. 

Some of the continent’s foremost acts, like Tyla, Asake, Davido, and Olamide, have been nominated for the inaugural edition of the award. 

 

South Africa’s Rugby World Cup Win 

 

We’ve seen the Springboks–South Africa’s Rugby national team–win the Rugby World Cup four times, but seeing their triumphs doesn’t get old. After their last win in 2019, the Springboks, led by captain Siya Kolisi, clinched the biggest prize in rugby once again [this year], sparking celebrations in South Africa and across the continent as they remain the only African country to make it at the rugby’s world stage.

  

Disney+’s Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire 

 

Due to a dearth of funding, it’s quite rare that animated content tells the story of what is happening on the continent. The release of Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire in July 2023 by Disney+ was an important date for the continent’s fledging animation industry as 10 short stories inspired by African lore and customs were reinterpreted with futurist lens by some of the continent’s leading lights. From shorts like Moremi to First Totem Problems, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire presented a vision of Africa that was worth celebrating and helped propel African animation to global audiences. 

 

Release of The Black Book

 

The subtext of Editi Effiong’s feature directorial debut, The Black Book, might be the institutional decay that plagues the police force in his native Nigeria. Still, even that grimy circumstance could not dim the light of his masterpiece. A runaway Netflix hit, The Black Book has been a resounding success worldwide, with praise for the performance of its stacked cast. It has quickly become the most successful Nigerian movie on Netflix with over 70 million views and hit number one on Netflix charts in South Korea as well as breaking into the top 10 movies on Netflix globally. The film stands as a good omen for Nollywood and African productions in 2024.

 

Tyla’s Billboard Hot 100 Hit 

 

South African music has been on the rise recently thanks to the global popularity of amapiano. But South African music goes far beyond the wavy bass lines and log drums of amapiano with a vibrant soul and pop scene that is also taking off. This year, pop wunderkind Tyla made a global impact with her single, “Water.” Originally teased on TikTok, the single has gone on to be a monster hit, charting in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making her the first South African in 55 years to enter the chart. The song also reached number one in New Zealand and the top ten in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, UAE, Philippines, South Africa, Ireland and Sweden. “Water” also received a nomination in the Best African Music Performance at the 2024 Grammy Awards.

Photo Credit: Sundance Film Festival; Mami Wata

Film & TV

Exploring the African Films and TV That Defined 2023

Photo Credit: Sundance Film Festival; Mami Wata

As 2023 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on some of the cinematic wonders that created a stronger pulse for African cinema on the global stage

By Sughnen Yongo

December 2023

This year, the African film and television industry shone brightly, grabbing the attention of international film festivals and their sponsors, broadening the landscape for African storytelling and its impact on the global perception of Africa. Here are some of the African films and TV shows that defined 2023. 

MAMI WATA

 

C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s visually captivating thriller Mami Wata is a reimagined ode to West African folklore The phrase Mami Wata directly translates to “Mother Water” and refers to the reverence and worship of water spirits. Although the film is cast in black and white, its message is still vibrant and difficult to forget, which is part of the reason why this film tops our list of favorite African cinema outputs this year. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was also Nigeria’s official entry for the Best International Feature at the Oscars next year.

 

GANGS OF LAGOS

 

Upon its release, Gangs of Lagos triggered praise, controversy, and critical acclaim The film, which delves into the intricacies of street life in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, was the world’s portal into the crime and violence in the streets of Lagos The film, which is Jáde Osiberu’s brainchild, aired on Amazon, triggering a lot of conversation about perpetuating negative African stereotypes. Overall, the carefully curated cast and riveting storyline made this film one of the most memorable this year.

 

AFRICAN FOLKTALES REIMAGINED

 

In African Folktales Reimagined, filmmakers from all over Africa collaborated to create a Netflix-friendly body of work. Although Folktales is rooted in traditional stories that pay homage to the traditions of old it is still curiously relatable to modern-day realities. The filmmakers, who hail from Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda and Mauritania, recreate a body of work that pays homage to each of these countries while still carrying a unified stance.

 

ANIMALIA

 

In Animalia, director Sofia Alaoui explores the interwoven elements of socio-cultural norms in a world where the arrival of aliens threatens life in Morocco, namely the life of a young pregnant woman. By dabbling in elements that may seem “otherworldly,” the film captures the core of themes that may seem otherworldly while maintaining its mysterious allure.

 

SAINT OMER

 

In Saint Omer, Alice Diop gives viewers an intimate exploration into the case of a troubled Senegalese mother standing trial for the premeditated murder of her 15-month-old child. The main character, Laurence Conly,  played by Guslagie Malanda, is accused of intentionally leaving her baby on a beach to be swept away by the aggressive water waves. The poignant story is based on real-life events, with slight adaptations to make it film-friendly. The storyline is simple enough; however, the film itself, which centers around the trial, highlights that life isn’t black-and-white, and the truth can present itself in gray areas.

 

YOUNG, FAMOUS, AND AFRICAN

 

The producers of Young, Famous & African brought together the glitziest cast to highlight African opulence on a whole other level. If there ever was a cinematic output on this list that fiercely defies the age-old idea that Africa is a dormant continent with few opportunities, this is it. The show’s casting directors were on an obvious mission when they selected specific, successful personalities from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, and Tanzania. One of the most stand-out elements of the show is the cast’s outfits, which are carefully curated expressions of luxury. Rife with drama, camaraderie, and occasional snobbiness, the show arguably secured its spot as one of the highest-rated African programs of the year.

 

 

FATAL SEDUCTION

 

After an illicit affair with a younger man turns tragic, a married woman becomes skeptical about the world around her. The South African thriller stars Kgomotso Christopher, Prince Grootboom, and Thapelo Mokoena, and it is as riveting as it is compelling. Fatal Seduction captures the essence of life and all of the ways that morality can be a skewed, altered, and complex reality, especially when passion is involved.

 

 

OUR FATHER, THE DEVIL 

The psychological thriller, which premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, follows the story of Marie (Babetida Sadjo), an African refugee who leads a quiet life in a small French town, but who is reminded of her dark past with the emergence of the charismatic Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane). Described as “stirring” and “a tour de force”, the film has received several awards, including Best Feature Narrative at the 2022 Indie Memphis Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2022 Heartland Film Festival.

Photo credit: Circle Film Entertainment

Film

Film Review: Orah at AFRIFF

Photo credit: Circle Film Entertainment

A unique take on revenge that follows a Nigerian woman navigating crime and government corruption, while battling unspeakable grief

By Chisom Peter Job

November 2023

The film Orah, which opened the 12th edition of the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), begins with a deliberate and slow first act that introduces the characters and immerses us in their world. The life of a Nigerian immigrant in Toronto is juxtaposed with Orah’s hometown of Lagos, building our understanding of why she has made sacrifices that separated her from her son. Similar to other revenge films, in which a tragic event propels our protagonist into a quest for justice, Director Lonzo Nzekwe, differentiates Orah through its depiction of motherly love and the impact of grief. 

 

The narrative follows Orah Madukaku (Oyin Oladejo), who leaves Lagos for Toronto at 15, leaving her son Lucky (Emeka Nwagbaraocha) with his grandmother. Orah works as a taxi driver to make ends meet during the day, and on the side, helps a shady man launder money under the promise that he will bring Lucky to Toronto. 

 

Lucky’s journey to join his mother in Toronto takes an unexpected turn when he discovers that his visa and ticket come with a condition: smuggling drugs for Bami Hazar (Onyekachi Ejim), a wanted drug lord and money launderer. This revelation starkly contrasts with what Orah was initially told.

 

When Lucky refuses to participate in the drug smuggling and contacts his mother, a tragedy unfolds with two gunshots, solidifying the first act. The film delves into the theme of poverty creating inequality and explores the desperate measures people take to escape it, emphasizing the  ethical dilemmas faced by young Nigerians seeking opportunities abroad.

 

The second act focuses on Orah’s pursuit of justice, deviating from the typical revenge plot. Instead of immediately resorting to violence, Orah attempts a legal approach by gathering evidence to indict her son’s murderers and contacting the appropriate authorities. Despite a daring visit to Hazar’s family, showcasing her determination, the film highlights the challenges she faces from those trying to silence her.

 

Though inconsistent, Orah transitions between Lagos and Toronto, using a sepia filter in Lagos scenes. While occasionally awkward, the cinematography allows the actors to shine, with Oyin Oladejo delivering a compelling performance, maneuvering between unbearable grief and anger with a remarkable authenticity.

 

Setting itself apart from typical Nollywood films in its genre, Orah avoids the clichéd fight scenes, and instead focuses on the emotional toll required to pursue justice through the law, acknowledging the difficulties in a country like Nigeria, where systemic issues often favor the wealthy. The film addresses the theme of corruption, encapsulating it with the recurring notion that “everyone has a price.” 

 

In the closing act, Orah is ultimately forced to choose between accepting the government’s corruption and attempting to move on, or taking justice into her own hands and risking her own life. 

Photo credit: ESPN

Film

Joie Jacoby on Directing ‘Candace Parker: Unapologetic’

Photo credit: ESPN

Director Joie Jacoby draws on years of portraying athletes to create her most personal film yet

By Chisom Peter Job

November 2023

Candace Parker: Unapologetic tells the story of one of the greatest WNBA players ever.  Director Joie Jacoby hails from the world of sports, having started at ESPN right out of college. She would go on to cover the Olympics, winning an Emmy for her work at London’s 2012 games. Following a documentary on Wendy Williams and Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries, her directorial chops sufficiently sharpened, Jacoby was ready to tackle a project that matched her passion.

 

“I’m really just interested in telling stories about people who are super fascinating. I’ve never done reality television or anything like that. I’ve always just been in the world of learning about people, what makes them tick, and how they become who they are. So, you know, the story of Candace fits right in there, too,” she tells STATEMENT.

 

Jacoby spent three years following the superstar, longer than any previous documentary she’s worked on. 

 

STATEMENT caught up with Jacoby to discuss directing the documentary film, working with Candace, and more.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

STATEMENT: What can you share about your experience directing this documentary?

 

Jacoby: Once Candace decided she was willing to do this film and was ready to tell her story, she was honest, open, and candid. She was willing to go there and talk about things she had never really spoken of on camera before — from her personal and professional life. So yeah, I mean, it was just really a process of spending a lot of time with Candace from 2021 through, you know, the beginning of this year when we finished filming. I think we did one small shoot this year. But everything was mostly done in 2021 and 2022.

 

How familiar were you with her story before this project?

 

I have been a fan of Candace and followed her career for many years. I worked on the ESPY Awards for ESPN for many years, which is like a big award show where all the biggest athletes in sports come together. And so the first time Candace came on my radar was when she was drafted into the WNBA and she was invited to the ESPYs. I learned so much because everybody was talking about her, and she was a really big deal, which is something you see in the film. 

 

Over the years, there have been some moments where she was a bigger deal, or the media made her a big deal in a way that we hadn’t seen women basketball players ever be highlighted. So from that first moment, I think it was 2006 or 2007, about when she was drafted, that’s when she really came on my radar. One of the things that was interesting to me was there was this huge emphasis, even at that time, on her looks and how beautiful she was. I mean, obviously, she’s a really beautiful woman. But I definitely hadn’t seen that sort of emphasis on black female athletes, particularly basketball players. We talked about how all this attention was on her and what that meant in the film.

 

So, what’s one thing you learned from Candace Parker during the course of making the film?

 

As I said, I worked with, you know, many of the top athletes; women, men, but you know, in particular, like a lot of these lady athletes that I’ve met over the years, and something really unique about Candace, despite, the accomplishments she’s had, is how grounded and down to earth she is.

 

How did you approach the process of telling Candace’s story and bringing it to life?

 

One of the big things was to tell her full story, and we needed a lot of archival material and footage. And Candace is incredible. She filmed a lot of stuff over the years, especially with her kid and traveling all over the world, playing in Russia, and playing in China. She had a wealth of material, just photos and videos. But one of the other things we really needed was stuff from her childhood, and if you saw the film, you saw there was a lot of old footage of her as a little girl, and that material all came from her mother.

 

But it wasn’t easy to obtain all of that footage because it was all very old and was not digitized, and her mother didn’t want to give it away. She didn’t want to just hand it off to us. Even though we were starting to get to know each other. So I had to go to Chicago and bring a VHS and TV tape recorder to her, and we watched everything at her house. And I was amazed by the stuff that I was seeing. She had news reports that nobody else had because they don’t archive these things, so I went through them, and then she allowed me to go and digitize them and bring them back to her. And I did that. So that was a really, really big part of the process and it took several days to just go through all of her material and copy it and get it back.

 

How do you incorporate feedback and criticism into your work, and how has this helped you over the course of your career?

 

Feedback is good, and a director has to have a motivating factor on what they want their film to be. Making films is not done with one director or one person. It’s not done with just me in there, and I could not have made this film without the incredible producers I worked with, all women who were pivotal in making it. There was feedback at every stage, including edits, and documentaries are super difficult to make with many people producing. It’s really a process from start to finish, with me as the director being the driving force, and nothing would get made if it was just me.

 

Have any of your projects ever taken you to the continent — Africa? If yes, tell me about it.

 

Yeah, and I’m hoping some more will bring me there soon! The first project that brought me to the continent, and my favorite thing to have worked on, was a story about Mandela and the Springboks for ESPN. We filmed in Johannesburg and Cape Town and with many of the archivists who had been working with Mandela for decades. We also filmed with locals, fans, and former players of Springboks, and that was an incredibly moving trip for me and brought a lot of emotions for me to be there.

 

It was an amazing opportunity to tell the story of Mandela to an American audience and how he used sport to bring the country together after so much pain. I also spent some time in Egypt during the Arab Spring — I can’t speak about where it’s ending up next — covering it and the liberation movement that, in many ways, has stopped and started many times in that region. I can’t wait to come back, and I would love to find another way to come back to film the continent!

 

What can we look forward to from you?

 

I’m doing a three-part documentary series for Hulu that tells the story of Black Twitter, which is really just how black folks are on the internet and have been driving culture on the internet and in real life for the last 20 years. So that’s upcoming and will be out early in 2024, and I am really excited about that. It was great diving into the pop cultural world when telling that story, and looking at politics, etc. It brings a lot of my interests together in one place.

 

Candace Parker: Unapologetic is currently streaming on ESPN.

 

Photo credit: Aham Ibeleme

TV

Editi Effiong Is Here To Stay

Photo credit: Aham Ibeleme

How Effiong created the film that would go on to break records on Netflix

By Chisom Peter Job

October 2023

Despite being heavily inspired by his own tragic experiences, Editi Effiong couldn’t be more thrilled with his feature directorial debut, The Black Book. 

 

The director, who had his first Nollywood experience with Up North – the 2018 romance drama, which holds a special place in his heart – has reached an unprecedented level of success with The Black Book. The film is currently breaking records on Netflix with a budget exceeding $1 million, and a cast of veteran actors, including Richard Mofe-Damijo, Sam Dede, Ireti Doyle, and a host of others.  It had up to 5.6 million views in its first two days and has been on the top 10 list in over 50 countries since its release, making it the biggest African film on Netflix so far. 

 

“For the most part, I know we worked really hard, and we make films for audiences, so I’m happy that they love the work,” he tells STATEMENT. “I also love that feedback shows the audience felt what we wanted them to feel, and the Netflix algorithm is going to show that people paused the film at the 20th minute mark to catch their breath.”

 

While Up North, produced by Effiong’s digital agency, Anakle Films, was an ambitious project for him, and the “largest film ever shot in Nollywood, in terms of diversity,” The Black Book is the biggest Nigerian film ever done, demonstrating Effiong’s breakneck artistic growth. 

 

After Paul Edima’s (Richard Mofe-Damijo) son gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and is shot by the SAKS officers, we watch as Edima breaks down upon seeing the lifeless body of his only child. Set to the powerful, A Song by Dolu, the scene explores the depth of his grief and what losing a loved one feels like.

 

He explains, “I didn’t direct RMD’s scene as it’s my lived experience. I’ve lost a child. I had two boys, and lost my second boy in 2015, so I’m kind of an expert in grief and I’m very aware of those feelings and what it makes one do, and the questions it makes one ask,” he pauses. “Beyond the grief scenes, the depth of his grief was in the acceptance that he’s lost his child, and will do nothing about it.”

 

Edima doesn’t pursue the Nigerian government to achieve justice for his son’s death. He does, however, spend the entire film redeeming his son’s name, and making sure everyone involved in it paid a price.

 

Over Zoom, Effiong spoke more about The Black Book, a possible director’s cut, and what’s next.

 

STATEMENT: What was your feature directorial debut like?

 

Effiong: What was it like for me? The good thing about making a film in that position is that you have so much work to do, and you commit yourself to that. When you have a job to do, you expect the actors to divorce themselves from themselves and embody the character. You also have to take away your own self, and leave only the things that will help you take the character on this journey.

 

How difficult was it?

 

It’s the biggest film ever made in Nollywood, so what do you think? We had [a] Covid outbreak on set, and had to shut down for 10 days. And at that point you have to take care of the people who work with you, and that affected things down the road. Some members of the crew resigned because we shot for two months in Lagos and were going to Kaduna, and they didn’t want to because people were tired. There were security issues in Kaduna and we had to maintain a small private army. So, yeah.

 

How much of your lived experience was included in the film?

 

I live in this moment; in the physical and also live in my head. His son worked in an advertising agency, and I do too. Every Nigerian has also had an encounter with the police too. Beyond that, I do well with active imagination.

 

Alright, so were the explosions real?

 

All the explosions were real. We pulled them off on set.

 

Oh.

 

I can tell you about the big explosion at the farm. The first day, we assembled a big set, pulled it together and were supposed to shoot it at 6:45 pm, because it was the exact time we needed to pull that scene. So we got everything together, and when the explosion went off, it was terrible. It was small, nothing. Thinking about it brings back bad memories, and I thought I was going to fail. The next day, we set it up again, and this time, it worked, and it worked really well.

 

That’s cool! I recently saw a post of yours, and wanted to know if we’d be getting a director’s cut anytime soon? 

 

It’s something I’ll have a convo about and see if it’s possible. I’m very happy with the picture that people see, and I do also think that people will appreciate a more relaxed cut of the film where conversations can be had for much longer, and people can see the characters in the way I had thought that they should be seen.

 

That’s great! What should we look out for from you?

 

I have a fourteen picture slate for the next five years, so that is a huge challenge. I do know that we’re on set in January, May, and September. Next year will be a busy year.

 

The Black Book is streaming on Netflix.

Director Ike Nnaebue / Photo credit: Jide Tom Akinleminu

Film

No U-Turn: Exploring The Tough Realities of African Migration

Director Ike Nnaebue / Photo credit: Jide Tom Akinleminu

No U-Turn captures the perilous journey thousands of Africans take every year to Europe and why they deem the risk worth it

By Takunda Chimutashu

October 2023

No U-Turn, released earlier this year, follows a poor 20-year-old, who attempts to illegally migrate to Europe by road to seek a better life. In the film, director Ike Nnaebue retraces his steps as a young illegal immigrant, “I had finished my apprenticeship, and I was stranded with no startup capital to start my business. I was frustrated and hopeless.” Nnaebue continues, “So, when I heard that it was possible to travel to Europe by road without a visa and with very little money, I thought that was exactly what I needed,” he added.

 

Originally hoping to make money and return to Nigeria, Nnaebue quickly discovered it wasn’t as easy as he was told. 

 

“The desert is a deadly place, and crossing it is almost impossible without being kidnapped. People are being sold into slavery and forced to pay their own ransom. Then, when they eventually get through that and make it to North Africa, they are faced with a different kind of suffering as well. The Mediterranean Sea itself has become the biggest graveyard in the world,” he says.

 

Nevertheless, people continue to migrate to Europe for a better life. A report by UNICEF places the number of children who die at the Central Mediterranean Sea weekly at eleven, with an estimated 11,600 children having made the dangerous crossing so far in 2023.

 

Nnaebue’s experience, and that of many West African migrants trying to find safety and a better life in Europe through what is referred to as “the back door,” led the filmmaker to create No U-Turn. “The doc is me retracing the journey I took in my late teens, 27 years ago. It is an opportunity to go back and understand the decision I made. “I [always] wanted to go back [to Europe], and then I realized that 27 years later, people are still trying to go through that route despite the dangers.”

 

This journey itself led him to filmmaking. He describes how patient he had to be and how he waited for the right opportunity before starting this journey. 

 

“I also wanted the European audience to understand that migrants are humans with valid dreams and aspirations, just like any other person in other parts of the world. If anybody has ever thought of moving from New York to New Jersey or Houston to Atlanta for a better life, it’s really no different between that and a migrant who thinks they would find better opportunities in Europe.”

 

There have been articles documenting what it means for Africans who migrate through the dangerous routes from Nigeria to Benin to Morocco, but with No U-Turn, we don’t only hear the stories from these people, but we see how their lives are impacted by their decision to migrate to Europe. For audiences, the journey is equally as emotional, leaving us with the memory of their faces and their stories every time a news outlet recounts a migration tragedy.

 

It’s a documentary filled with African voices, which Nnaebue says was the goal. “The film was part of a cohort called Generation Africa, founded by the amazing people at Steps, South Africa — a collective of African filmmakers who were encouraged to tell different stories around migration. The goal was to help African voices be heard worldwide instead of African stories being told by non-Africans,” he told STATEMENT. “Steps and Generation Africa helped with the entire fundraising process and were instrumental in the process of making this film.”

 

While Nnaebue agrees that many people who leave, do so seeking greener pastures, they also decide to leave in part because of the suffering back home. This understanding has led him to be part of a project called “Returning Migrants Reintegration Project,” to provide a safe space, support, and whatever they need when they come back to the continent. “That’s why many people would rather languish in the desert than come home because they don’t have anything to return to. So we want them to know they have a home to return to. We want to help them recalibrate their lives.”

 

The filmmaker has come a long way since his journey in 1998. He recognizes that he was fortunate enough to have not attempted it more than once. “I recently met somebody who said he would rather die on the road than go back home, and that’s sad. It paints a picture of what Africa has become over the years, where things are getting worse for a majority of the populace instead of things getting better, which is why we’re doing this work. We want everybody to care enough and bring their attention to it.”

 

No U-Turn had its festival run in 2022 and the first few months of 2023 at the New African Film Festival, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, where it won a special jury mention award, and FESPACO where it won the best film on ECOWAS Integration.

Photo credit: Netflix

Film

The Stars of Netflix’s ‘Can You See Us?’ Put Zambia on the Map

Photo credit: Netflix

The film explores what it’s like for people living with albinism in Zambia, inspired by true events.

By Fancy Goodman

October 2023

Netflix’s first Zambian film, Can You See Us?, premiered last month and has already stolen viewers’ hearts. Directed by Kenny Mumba and inspired by the life of Zambian singer John Chiti, the film follows Joseph, a boy grappling with albinism. 

 

The role of Joseph is played by Thabo Kaamba, a young actress with albinism. “This was an exciting and weird role,” Kaamba tells STATEMENT about playing a boy. “I had to cut my hair, wear male clothes, and learn to walk like a boy. I picked up behaviors from the boys I play with in my neighborhood, and also from my brother,” she adds. Can You See Us? showcases the lived experience of people living with albinism and the stigma they face in Zambia, as well as other [African] countries. 

 

In the film, people living with albinism aren’t considered human, and Joseph is frequently called “Mwabi,” a Nyangi word that translates to ghost, which Kaamba says is what people often think of her.

 

“Some people think I’m a ghost,” she says. “Even though I haven’t faced most of what Joseph went through, like being rejected by his father and bullied by his neighbors, I am called names whenever I walk in a new environment.”

 

STATEMENT sat down with Ruth Jule, the actor who plays Chama, Kondwani Elliott Zulu, who plays Martin, and Thabo Kaamba, as they spoke about their experiences working on the film, and becoming a fan favorite.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

STATEMENT: What was it like taking on your different roles?

 

Ruth Jule: It was a rollercoaster and was a bit difficult, mainly because I’m not a mother. However, the producer, Yasmine, ran me through what it was like being one and how protective mothers can be. That guidance made things easy for me.

 

Kondwani Elliott: It was amazing. The fact that I knew I was telling a very important story, coupled with being a father to someone while spreading the awareness of albinism, was a huge responsibility, but it was good.

 

I get that, so how did you both — Ruth and Kondwani — prepare for this role, seeing as you were parents to a child with albinism?

 

Ruth Jule: I had a lot of preparation with the producer, Yasmine. She is a mother, so she taught me how to be one and how protective they can be. That guidance made everything easy for me. 

 

Kondwani Elliott: I prepared with the help of the writers, director, and [the executive producer] Mr Thompson. When you sit down with them to understand what kind of father Martin is and why he has accepted to take in this child, you get the answers and are good to go. It was challenging because it required so much besides just being an actor or a father to someone. It required getting into the world of albinism and asking how you would react if you found yourself in the situation. We had an amazing cast, and they made it easy for me to do the job.

 

The film follows the story of real-life people. Did you get to interact with these people to better understand the characters you were playing?

 

Thabo: Yes, I did. We [John Chiti and I] interacted, and he told me some of the things he went through, which I never knew about.

 

Ruth  Jule: No, I never got a chance to do that.

 

Kondwani Elliott: I did not. However, John Chiti was on set one day, and I had a little chat with him. Then, he asked if I was the person playing his father. When I responded, he said, “I hope you do a good job.”

 

Okay, so what was it like playing these people? Was there any pressure to be great at portraying them?

 

Kondwani Elliott: It’s tough playing real people. It’s a lot of pressure because you don’t want to lie. I have never met the father of John Chiti, but I had to play him and get into his world. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. When I had conversations with the writers, they gave me hints about the kind of person the guy was, what he used to do, and what he liked.

 

Ruth  Jule: I didn’t really feel pressure, but I told myself I needed to do the best I could with the script and ensure that the viewers resonated with me as Joseph’s mum. My job was to play it as perfectly as I could. 

 

Thabo: Yes, there was. Playing another person is challenging because we are all different. Also, my character is a man, so that was something else.

 

So far, what do you think about the reception since the film premiered on Netflix?

 

Kondwani Elliott: It’s really good, and I personally didn’t expect that. I knew it was a good film that would travel well, but I didn’t expect people to get so invested as to make TikTok videos about it. It’s a big deal, especially because it is the first Zambian feature film on Netflix. The large reception it has had is truly amazing. 

 

Ruth Jule: I think it is something huge, and it is putting Zambia on the map. The world now knows that Zambia has a lot of undiluted talent. It gives [the world] a chance to sneak peek into Zambia’s movie industry and how we are good storytellers.

 

Thabo: It’s exciting and overwhelming. Also, I hope people will learn to treat others equally regardless of appearance. 

 

I hope the film creates more opportunities and conversations. Now, I’m curious to know what working with Thabo as the main character was like? 

 

Kondwani Elliott: She’s amazing, intelligent and out of this world. My biggest prayer now is that she gets more opportunities out of this. I remember her correcting me about certain lines because she knew the entire script. I came to the rehearsals and skipped some lines on set and was trying to be a genius, and she was like “Uh uh, daddy, go back”. She is an amazing actress.

 

Ruth Jule: It was easy working with her. She shared some of her challenges as a person with albinism, which made me tune into the character of a mother trying to protect her. She is excellent. 

 

What’s one thing being part of this production taught you about albinism?

 

Kondwani Elliott: I knew about albinism but I wasn’t so educated about it, but my mother did a good job because I was raised to see them as people with different skin tones. I remember the first time I read the script and was like, “Wait a minute! Somebody out there thinks cutting an albino’s arm off would make them money?” It was a shock, and it educated me so much about how our brothers and sisters with albinism are living, and I now know a lot about what that’s like. 

 

Ruth Jule: I knew they face challenges; I just didn’t know the severity and depth of those challenges. This movie opened my mind to the social and psychological difficulties they are faced with. I now know of people hunting them down for their arms and legs and understand how hard it is for them in society. We don’t see enough of people living with albinism in parliament and other positions of power. However, now, I know how they can be advocated for, going forward.

 

Can You See Us? is currently on Netflix.

 

Photo credit: Baloji

Film

From Congo to Cannes: The Creative Odyssey of a Belgian Rapper-Turned-Filmmaker

Photo credit: Baloji

A tumultuous upbringing offered an avenue into music, but the artist’s newest venture into film is a path forged all on his own

By Sughnen Yongo

September 2023

Long before Belgium selected Omen as its Oscar entry for the Best International Feature Film category, Baloji Tshiani had begun the grueling journey of establishing himself as a filmmaker. 

 

His story began in Lubumbashi, the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Born to a Belgian father and a Congolese mother, he was sent to live with his father in Belgium and proceeded to lose all contact with his mother. Feeling disconnected in a new place, he fell into petty crime and ultimately ended up in a youth delinquency center. There, he pursued his love for rap and dance. At just 15, he, along with friends, founded the hip hop group, Starflam. Their first album, Starflam, came out in 1998, followed by Survivant. His lyrical prowess and magnetic stage presence quickly propelled him to fame in the European rap scene.

 

In 2008, he released his first solo album, Hotel Impala, which was an autobiographical album that earned him a gold certification and two “Octaves de la musique” awards, along with the Rapsat-Lelièvre Award and the Brassens Award for Lyricists.

 

Having achieved every marker of success within the music industry, Baloji remained determined to push the limits of his own artistry and began pursuing filmmaking.  In his own words, he had become bored with the predictable and mundane segues of other films he had watched, and was eager to break the mold and shift paradigms. However, veering away from a successful music career, proved nearly as difficult as making a name for himself in the first place. For one, naysayers told him to “stick to rapping,” and as if things couldn’t get any more dire, funding was a challenge.

 

“It was a very long process for multiple reasons. For one, the film industry is very reluctant to accept people coming from other businesses or other art forms, like music,” Baloji told STATEMENT. “It took me more than ten years to get one of my projects funded, so that was a real struggle, and this project just came after 12 rejections by film commissions.”

 

Omen is Baloji’s first feature film. Its widespread acclaim within the film industry is an entirely new experience for the dedicated artist.  After self-funding his projects for over four years and not seeing much return, he struck gold in the most rewarding way. 

 

“I was sick of waiting for funding and was even more tired of people telling me that they would never give it to me because I was not from the film industry and didn’t study cinema,” the Zombies creator said. “So I decided to produce my own films, and luckily enough for me, one of them got recognition, and it changed the perspective of how people see my work.”

 

In spite of the recognition, the Congolese-born European said that the years of rejection did a great deal to reveal his purpose for creating films.

 

“The rejection teaches you the “why” behind what is pushing you to want to make films, and then you realize that it’s not for the Oscar or the praise; you do it because it’s bigger than you,” he said.

 

Omen was a labor of love and a reflection of his roots – a commitment to authenticity that has paid off. The film will be showing at the 67th BFI London Film Festival next month, and earlier this year, got a nod at the Cannes Film Festival’s “Un Certain Regard” sidebar, but Baloji’s “why” for breathing life into the project was drawn from within.

 

“Without trying to be too intellectual on this topic, I’ll say that growing up, I was raised like I was a sorcerer who was connected to bad forces, and all my life, I tried to explain to people that you’re not the name that you didn’t choose, you are more than that.”

 

In Swahili, Baloji originally meant “man of science.” However, during the colonial era, Christian evangelists who settled in the area reframed the name to mean “man of the occult sciences” and later to mean “sorcerer.”

 

“When your name means sorcerer and is connected to the devil and bad forces, you just want to prove to everybody that you can also appreciate beauty,” the filmmaker said. “But that’s my name, that’s my fucking name.”

 

When you ask Baloji how he feels about his rising success and recognition in film, there is almost a bitter-sweet hesitance to accept the reality of the moment.

 

“It’s a mixed feeling because at first I also wanted to represent Congo, which is my first country, but Congo was not eligible. Sadly, we don’t have the structure in Congo to be presented for the Oscar yet,” he said. “When we presented to Belgium, I was not expecting to be the choice because there were a lot of experienced, professional directors and films to choose from.”

 

Determined to capitalize on Omen’s success, Baloji is already channeling his creative restlessness towards his second feature film, a project he hopes will be released within the next few years. Throughout his journey, even now as a recognized name, he says that one of the most important lessons he has learned is to embrace mistakes.

 

“I’ve learned that some mistakes are good to keep as mistakes because I think perfection is boring. I always say that in music, you can listen to a singer on stage whose voice is cracking and who doesn’t fully know the lyrics but still end up feeling like you believe in her more than the perfect opera singer who hits all the notes perfectly,” Baloji said. “So, what I’ve learned about mistakes along the way, within reason, is that they are a part of the process.”

Photo credit: Gabrielle Kannemeyer / Netflix

TV

Buntu Petse is Netflix’s New Cool Kid

Photo credit: Gabrielle Kannemeyer / Netflix

Petse credits playing the unlikeable character in Netflix’s Miseducation, with building her newfound confidence

By Chisom Peter Job

September 2023

Netflix’s Miseducation is a young adult series that follows Mbali Hadebe (played by Buntu Petse), a teen in South Africa, who leaves home after her mother is arrested for fraud at a party she threw. The six-part drama, produced by Burnt Onion Productions, the studio behind How to Ruin Christmas, focuses on Mbali as she tries to climb the social ladder at her new school, leaving behind a trail of chaos. 

 

Petse is well aware that Mbali’s penchant for causing drama irks viewers. “I think it’s good that people found it annoying. It means you’re not someone who loves chaos in their life, so you’re doing something right. But I think it is a great character trait for Mbali because she actually doesn’t care,” Petse tells STATEMENT. “If she hasn’t done something chaotic, then she hasn’t lived through the day.”

 

Petse isn’t worried that playing Mbali will affect her likability, having already established herself amongst audiences. She was recently a presenter on South African Broadcasting Corporation’s Teenagers on a Mission, and had her first role in Generations: The Legacy, a soap opera that “celebrates the hopes and dreams of South Africans who aspire for a better future.” Depicting vastly different characters, all with an incontrovertible confidence, is Petse’s greatest strength, a quality that extends off the screen as well. She speaks with authority, but admits she didn’t always feel so self-possessed.

 

“Honey, the self-confidence in myself and my body was something I didn’t necessarily have walking into this, and the wardrobe department was like girl, you got a good body, and we’re gonna show it,” she says, smiling. “I didn’t really believe them, but now that I got to watch it, I think I represent a lot of girls who are considered a lot bigger than society’s norms, and I’m just happy that I was able to carry my body so confidently on screen, and I hope that it inspires other young girls who look like me.”

 

Petse spoke to STATEMENT about Miseducation, her creative process, and what’s next.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

STATEMENT: Now, you’d agree that Mbali made rash decisions, right?

 

Petse: A hundred per cent. I think she deals with the consequences when they come, but she is impulsive. However, at the core of it all, she has a goal: to be at the top. So, I guess this was a consistency with her making rash decisions.

 

Okay, so what was the process of bringing her to life, like for you?

 

So, luckily for me, at the time, obviously, I didn’t think it was such a great thing having to go to auditions and callbacks the amount of times that I did. But in hindsight, that was when I got to really know Mbali, and I think I had an edge over her because, by the time we started shooting, I had performed her so many times. Yes, it was one body of work, but I was able to play it in many diverse ways to showcase my talent. And in that time, I got to know Mbali on a deeper level.

 

Is this how it usually is for the other characters you’ve got to play?

 

Me getting into character?

 

Yes.

 

I’ve been doing this for four years, and the other characters I am currently working on are in a different format than this young adult series. We get to focus on other things, whereas here, I got to be boisterous with her [Mbali].

 

What’s one thing that was challenging in this regard? Getting into character and everything?

 

What separates me from Mbali is my self-centeredness. But then, I had to take a step back to better understand the paradoxical phenomenon that is Mbali because she is the opposite of that. But in doing that, I was able to bring in the selfishness. It was a challenge, but having the support of my cast mates and them saying, “I’m really seeing her through your performance,” helped me.

 

You mentioned the support you got from other members of the cast. What was it like filming and collaborating with them?

 

It was amazing. There were veterans and new people in the game. Working so closely with Mpho Sebeng and Lunga Shabalala was an experience because I learned a lot. I was just like a sponge absorbing.

 

I also loved that the head writer and director allowed us to share our opinions. We understood that they were there to direct us correctly, but they let us share our thoughts on our characters. That open air provided us with so much confidence and validity.

 

That’s great! Back to Mbali, do you think she ever made the right decision?

 

It’s very hard for me to answer that question because I’ve grown to respect Mbali. I think when you try to embody a character, you can’t judge her too much. You need to try to understand her motives and where they’re coming from. And I think I do have a newfound respect for her even more because there are a lot of people who dream and want to do things but don’t get to. So if people are going to be annoyed at the character, that’s something they should at least take away; in chaos, she did it consistently and diligently.

 

And what about her friends? Will they ever forgive her?

 

They should! I mean, no one deserves to be crucified. No one is God; even he said we should forgive [laughs].

 

So, would you agree that Mbali is an emotionally challenging character? If yes, how did you approach this? What were some of the techniques you used to tap into her emotions?

 

I’m going to go back to the script. At the table read, I felt what she felt. I was quite empathetic, and when it got to putting the script out on the floor, I was already invested in who she was. Whatever made her angry or happy made me feel the same way. It sounds crazy because you really do fall in love with this person as you have the massive duty of embodying them.

 

How do you stay inspired?

 

I stay inspired by other people. When I’m having a bad day, for example, I look at someone else and don’t know their story or what side of the bed they woke up from that morning. But seeing them working diligently makes me want to pull myself up. Seeing everyone do their best in each department kept me going.

 

That’s a good way to stay motivated. What was the last film or show you watched?

 

Watched? I think it was Miseducation [laughs], but let’s make this a bit difficult. So there’s a movie on Prime Video called “Red, White, And Royal Blue,” and it’s lovely. I enjoyed it.

 

That’s a good film. What are some of your favorite TV shows, and how have they inspired you as an actor?

 

I’d definitely say “Blood and Water” because I’m a huge fan. Also, how the actors embodied the characters was amazing to see, and I knew that was the standard I wanted to uphold, especially for a young adult drama. “How to Ruin Christmas” is another; They ate and left no crumbs. And obviously, the chefs did Miseducation as well, so we had to keep it cooking.

 

On the international front, I’d definitely say “Heartbreak High.” I loved the chaos those characters embodied and knew that was how I wanted to dive into my characters.

 

Still, on inspiration, when was the last time you were creatively inspired?

 

Wow. I think it was definitely the SAFTA’s nominees brunch this year alongside Netflix. I met many people in the industry I revere and am a fan of. I got to speak with most of them and was inspired because these people have walked in my shoes and [have] done what I’ve done, and it was so amazing to see how humble they were to share their knowledge. It fed me — fed me nice.

 

And what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about creativity?

 

I have realized that creativity requires discipline. A lot of people like to think that people just flow, but it does take discipline in yourself, making sure you are able to work, liaising with other people, and holding yourself accountable. Making sure you wake up every day and get the work done. And with Miseducation, I got to put what I have learned to the test. I know I still have a long way to go, but I was happy I had the tools and equipment to complete the show.

 

What’s the craziest or most unexpected thing that has happened to you on set?

 

So, I had a panic attack on set because I wasn’t necessarily used to smoking that much at a go. As a creative, your characters are drinkers, smokers, etc., and it’s easier to cheat with alcohol. But with smoking, we have to see the smoke, and I think I got overzealous, and it went to my head, and I was seeing stars. Luckily, the medical team was there to help me immediately and check my vitals.

 

Sorry about that. Panic attacks are terrible.

 

It’s part of the game. [laughs]

 

So, what’s next for you?

 

You know I signed NDAs, I can’t say much [laughs.] No, I’m kidding. You can still watch “Generations,” and right now, I’m just trying to be in a place where I can say yes to opportunities as soon as they come, and that entails preparing my body, my bind. So when something is in store and ready for y’all’s eyes, it’s just as hard as Miseducation.

 

Miseducation is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

Photo credit: Abdulrahman Khedr

Film & TV

Abdulrahman Khedr Imagines the Future of Pan-African Animation

Photo credit: Abdulrahman Khedr

Khedr infuses ‘Kizazi’ with his Egyptian heritage as he leads the push for Africa’s bid in the animated film space

By Wale Oloworekende

September 2023

In July 2023, Disney+ announced the release of an African-inspired anthology of animation shorts titled Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire. Egyptian production house, Giraffics, and its CEO, Abdulrahman Khedr, worked on the series, producing First Totem Problems and doing pre-production on Stardust. Stardust, an Egyptian-fronted short, tells a coming-of-age story against a North African backdrop while First Totem Problems reimagines a popular South African folklore in a tech-enhanced African utopia.

 

As a kid growing up in Cairo, Abdulrahman Khedr was utterly hypnotised by the transformative power of movies. He remembers his father using those mediums to pass him essential lessons about life, humility, and kindness. One film specifically, Steven Spielberg’s 1987 classic, Empire of the Sun, was a useful lesson in being tender-hearted. “I was 7 or 8 years old when I watched the movie,” Abdulrahman said on a Zoom call with STATEMENT recently. “It’s an example of how my dad used films to teach us how to treat people in a good way.”

 

When the time came for Khedr to study at the university, he bowed to age-long Egyptian conventions and decided to study engineering, but his heart wasn’t in it. In his final year in school, he decided to co-found a production company, Axeer, with some friends and went on to produce music videos, infomercials, and a feature film. Keen to broaden his creative sphere, he co-founded another company, Giraffics, in 2017, hoping to produce Egypt’s first global animation film. 

 

A continent-wide search for collaborators and funding brought them to Stuart Forrest, the CEO of Triggerfish Animations, the largest animation firm in Africa. When the opportunity to work on a series of afro-futuristic animated shorts for the project that would become Disney+’s Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire came up, Giraffics and Khedr were invited to contribute stories to the anthology.

 

 

Photo credit: Disney+

 

Aside from accepting one of the stories, Stardust,  pitched by Giraffics, the company was tapped to produce another film, First Totem Problems. Primarily inspired by South African folklore, First Totem Problems resulted from a Pan-African collaboration between Giraffics and South African director, Tshepo Moche, opening a world of possibilities for such collaborations going forward. 

 

STATEMENT spoke to Khedr about the state of animation in Egypt, working on Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, collaborating with a South African director, and the future of African animation.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

What is the landscape of the Egyptian animation industry?

 

Khedr: So, basically, we have a lot of studios that work on animated commercials, and are good on that front.  There are amazing studios in Egypt, amazing talents, and amazing artists, but the thing is animation costs a lot of money to produce, and it takes a long time because you can shoot a feature film in Egypt in three or four months maybe, and then, you release it to theatres, you make money, you sell it to streaming services, but with animation films, it takes 3 to 4 years in production, and then, with the story and trying to sell the film and everything, the process can take up to 5 years, and that’s why no one really does it, because the ROI is low. There’s no pay, and now, there’s really no ROI in terms of animation. And when it comes to shows, I mean we have animated shows, but they are not many. You can find one every few years, so it’s still a bit basic. 

 

When did the conversation start about working on these animated shorts for Disney? 

 

We’d been in talks with Triggerfish. We met with Stuart first, and then we met online with Anthony, and we’ve been talking a lot about The Grand Night, our film. They know how we do things, we know how they do things. We know that they are the biggest animation studio in Africa, and they know that we are the up-and-coming studio, and they also do 3D, we do 2D. At some point, Triggerfish approached us, and they were like, “We have a pitch…For Disney, we have this show that we are running and we want you guys to pitch your stories,” So, we invited several Egyptian writers and directors to submit their stories, which we then sent to Disney.  

 

Our story, Stardust, which was accepted was directed by Ahmed Teilab. We started working on the story and then decided that this film should be in 3D, not 2D. And because we don’t do 3D, Triggerfish said they were going to do the production, leaving us to do the pre-production. ” We did some sort of consultancy with Teilab during pre-production, but Triggerfish did amazing work in the production. A month after we started working on “Stardust,” they said, “Okay. We have another film, and It’s by a South African director, Tshepo Moche. It’s amazing.” We heard the story, and we read it, and then we submitted our proposal to actually do the production, and worked with Tshepo from the beginning to the end. 

 

I’m really curious about “First Totem Problems.” It’s a South African story rooted in the folk tradition of South Africa, and it was produced by you, an Egyptian company. How did you get into the creative space to translate that kind of story? What was the discussion like with the writer, the producer and the director? How did that come about? 

 

Well, the process with “First Totem Problems” was eye-opening for us because somehow, and I’m not exaggerating about it, it really did inform us more about Africa because as Egypt, we are part of Africa, but then—

 

Your culture is a bit different. 

 

Yeah. Exactly. Our culture is a bit different. They call us part of the MENA, but we are Africans too. But then, during the process, we started feeling like we connected way more with Africa. I mean, when it comes to the cultural heritage, to the language—not like the actual languages, love languages or family ties, everything—it was amazing. Working with Tshepo was an amazing experience because you have a South African writer and director, Tshepo, and then the assistant director is Egyptian, with an all-Egyptian artist and production team.  And we spent the first few months in pre-production knowing and learning more about the story, the characters, the best things to do and not do, the character features, and the words that we should use a lot when writing this. 

 

To make it authentic?

 

Exactly. Because we wanted the experience to be extremely authentic, and then, we actually flew Tshepo to Egypt with the producer on the show. They came to Egypt and stayed with us for two weeks in the office. Whenever you hear Tshepo, the director, talking, she always talks about family. We are her small family because somehow, the team spent more time with her absorbing everything. I’ve never had this many meetings in my life, and they really connected. Flying Tshepo to Egypt strengthened our connection more, and then, the team was able to think like her and do what she wanted in terms of culture and heritage.

 

This brings me to a question that is really central to the vision of animation on the continent. What do these kinds of collaborations from different parts of Africa, and different cultures, mean for the future of Pan-African collaborations and the animation industry on the continent?

 

Africa is still a baby in terms of the animation and creative industries. The US has been way ahead, Europe is way ahead, but Africa has its pros and cons.  One of the pros is that we still have many stories to tell. Our storytelling and formal storytelling are different, and the stories we tell are different. It’s literally the land of untold stories, right? There’s authentic global content from the continent before, so we have a lot of years ahead of us to do it. People expect more and more stories. That’s the thing about “Kizazi Moto,” It was so fresh because no one had sold a thing like this before. But the thing is, I don’t think that one studio can only do it. 

 

Photo credit: Disney+

 

It would really depend on continental partnerships and continental co-productions between different companies and studios from different countries across the continent to actually do something this big, and it really happened with Kizazi Moto. Yes, Triggerfish was the main production company. They managed the whole project because they are bigger than us, but they did it with many African studios, writers, and directors. So, it gave it an authentic voice being done by a South African production company and with companies from Africa. 

 

I really believe that cooperation, collaboration, and partnerships between different studios will take us further because the cost is extremely expensive. Most of these studios aren’t big enough to take one whole project on their own. 

 

Okay. I’m also curious about “Stardust.” What was the process of getting that together? This one seems like it was done mostly within Egypt. So, can you run me through the process, the timeline, and how it all came about? 

 

So, “Stardust” was the reverse. For “Stardust,” it was an Egyptian writer and director. The pre-production team were all Egyptian, the concept artists, the illustrators, etc. It’s not an Egyptian story. It’s more of a North African story, and you don’t know where it takes place, but you know it is in the Sahara, North Africa. It took some time to finish the story and the script and find something that could hold the space during the production. Once we delivered the pre-production work and the concepts for the story and everything, Triggerfish started with their team to do the production. The production of the two series took almost a year. The actual production took a year. Teilab actually flew to South Africa to finish the film.

 

Is there a plan for Giraffics to do a showcase soon? What is it looking like in the future?

 

So, “Kizazi Moto” was the biggest project we have worked on. But we have a lot of projects in our backline. We have The Grand Night — which we’re currently writing the script for — based on folklore and is also a puppet theatrical act in Egypt. It’s like a very old one. We are giving it a retouch and writing a whole script for a full-feature animated film, with the film hopefully being produced by Triggerfish.

 

We also have another film that we are working on called Cleo with Barry Cook. He was the director of Mulan. Right now, he’s working on this film with Lori. It’s about young Cleopatra. It’s actually a nice project. We did some of the visual development work, But it hasn’t been picked up yet. For us, we know that being the first studio from the North African region to work with Disney gives us some sort of knowledge and experience in terms of the pipeline, the things to do, what not to do, and the quality control we have on our projects. So, we hope that this could help us. 

 

I noticed the elements of Afro-futurism across the series and even in “First Totem Problems” and “Stardust” How did the visualisation process come about? How were you able to zero in on these thoughts and bring them to life?

 

After talking to most directors on the show, I learnt that they had complete freedom. I mean, they had guidelines from Disney and the executives on the project, and it helped them a lot, but these guidelines were not constraints. They were left with the complete freedom to be authentic and do whatever they wanted and envisioned. 

 

So, everything came from every director’s personal beliefs or experience. They had complete freedom to imagine what they wanted. Teilab imagined something, and Tshepo imagined something else, but they all had a theme, and that’s why it became so diverse. Also, everything on its own stands out as a specific project. 

 

I think imagination is one of the most important things needed in Africa, our people need to dare to imagine stuff, and that’s why I feel like a project like Kizazi Moto is important. How important is it that the imaginations brought to life on  Kizazi Moto are something people can watch now? 

 

We have enough talented artists with amazing creativity, talent, and imagination to actually come up with anything, and this has shown in Kizazi Moto that when African talents are given a chance, they produce something amazing. I remember when we were in Annecy this year doing the screening of the Kizazi Moto anthology, and then there were questions for Disney and Triggerfish. 

 

After the questions, there was this one guy that said, “Okay. I don’t have a question, but I want to say something. I’m from Nigeria, I work in an animation studio and watched this series. It really gives us hope because it is the first time to see something as authentic as this made by Africans.” He said, “I’m talking on my behalf, on my studio’s behalf, and on behalf of most of the studios that I know; this gives us so much hope.” So, I guess, if there is the chance, if there’s the opportunity for the studios to work, for the artists to work, then there’s the imagination and creativity that can start everything.