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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Film & TV
From YouTube to Netflix, African Folktales Open Doors for Loukman Ali
Supa Team 4, originally titled Mama K’s Team 4, is Netflix’s first-ever African animation series, set in a futuristic version of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. The lighthearted action-adventure series centers on the lives of four schoolgirls (Monde, Zikomo, Komana, and Temwe) in Kamiji Secondary School whose lives are changed when they’re suddenly tasked with the responsibility of working as covert superheroes fighting to keep the bustling city of Lusaka safe.
Monde is a new student and a majorette, Zikomo is a football star, Komana is the type-A brilliant student, and Temwe is the impulsive rascal with a voracious appetite. Team 4 operates under the supervision of Mama K, a tech-savvy sixty-year-old woman who was a covert government spy in her heyday. With the help of her AI assistant, Technological Operations Management Interface (T.O.M.I) à la Iron Man’s Jarvis, Mama K equips each of the girls with super suits and high-tech gear tailored to their personalities with code names to boot. In each episode, the girls are presented with a supervillain to defeat, and they are also expected to juggle their world-saving duties along with their academics and other whimsical adolescent misadventures.
The eight-part series, created by native Zambian Malenga Mulendema, was announced in 2019 but had been in development since 2015. In its early stages, the show was pitched to development executives from the South African computer animation film studio, Triggerfish and The Walt Disney Company. Eventually Mulendema became one of the 8 successful candidates of the Triggerfish Story Lab — a pan-African talent search to assist budding African creators and film producers by providing them with mentorship and funding to develop their ideas into video content for the international market.
Following an increasing demand for African content, with successful shows like South Africa’s “Blood and Water,” Supa Team 4 comes on the heels of Netflix’s plan to significantly invest (since 2016, the streaming giant reportedly invested approximately $175 million in film production across Africa) in the continent’s creative economy with the goal of amplifying the voices of African creators and showcasing the rich diversity of African stories.
Additionally, the recent success and acclaim of films like Marvel’s Black Panther (although set in the fictional nation of Wakanda) and The Woman King indicate that audiences are very interested in stories that center Africans — our history, our stories, the scramble for our resources, and how we see the world. Mulendema stated that her original desire for creating the show was to spotlight Africa and increase investment and production on the continent. Zambia’s capital is now being hailed as a potential hub for its creators eager to dabble in the animation scene.
On top of that, Mulendema has drawn the attention of management companies like Newmation, determined to mine African stories and “hyper focused on producing new films and series from Africa for a global audience”. Newmation also recently signed Ziki Nelson, creator of the upcoming original animated Disney + series, Iwájú and is primed to produce more African content. Furthermore, with shows like the pan-African animated series, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, being lauded as a watershed moment for the African animation industry and Netflix partnering with GOBELINS to offer scholarships to African animators, it’s clear that the African animation scene is picking up steam and slowly taking center stage on a global scale.
Supa Team 4 is propelled with a spirited theme song performed by singer and rapper, Sampa the Great, and its characters are cheerfully voiced by John Kani (who played T’Challa’s father in Black Panther), Pamela Nomvete, Zowa Ngwira, Namisa Mdlalose, Kimani Arthur and Nancy Sekhokoane (The Woman King). It’s a frequently funny show that manages to interweave elements of science and comedy organically. For instance, episode four sees the team battle a supervillain crocodile named The Alley Gator, and when Monde reminds the villain that there are no alligators in Africa [just crocodiles], he quickly acquiesces and admits to choosing his moniker out of convenience. The show’s fifth episode sees Team 4 fight a woman named Sunblock; a self-aggrandizing supervillain who literally blocks the sun and harnesses its solar power to run her vlog. When the team admits to never having heard of her, they run a search for her online and only come up with results for sunblock lotion.
Most of the episodes end with the team (mostly the tech whizz, Komana if I’m being honest) defeating the villains by coming up with scientific solutions and applying them; whether it’s draining solar energy from Sunblock back to the city’s power stations or figuring out how to use non-metals to defeat a magnet-wielding villain. The point the show succeeds in making is that African wisdom and knowledge – not just ideas/achievements propagating from the Global North – are essential in the advancement of science and technology.
Supa Team 4 draws inspiration from the plethora of media centered around mystery-solving, crime-fighting squads and anyone well versed in kid’s animation shows like Action Pack may find it a tad formulaic. But it’s the show’s distinct characters, colorful aesthetics, and real-world-futuristic setting that make it appealing to both kids and adults alike. Tying all of this together is how the show foregrounds themes of friendship by having the girls tackle interpersonal issues, usually with the help of one another, which in turn helps them understand the value of teamwork. The show is worthwhile because it’s one of the best of its kind — not simply because it’s the first.
As an African filmmaker, applying for funding for your project can be daunting and downright intimidating. While it may seem as though the African filmmaking landscape is the best that it has ever been in recent years, with African films leaving their mark on the global landscape and more filmmakers gaining access to capital, obtaining the resources needed to fuel your dream may still seem far-fetched.
The film and television industry in Africa may be growing rapidly, but with that comes the need for additional funding to help projects move forward, and challenges still remain. According to UNESCO, across Africa, the leading challenge that exists for creators include weak or non-existent governmental incentives encouraging African creators to pursue their stories.
With the right funding, projects can further push the envelope and open more doors for the future. Fortunately, numerous African development funding sources are available for filmmakers and TV producers. To help filmmakers on the continent, STATEMENT has compiled a list below on how to apply for African development funding, some of the places to find them, and ways to go about it.
1. Understand African Development Funding
African development funding is a niche sector that hinges on regional organizations and philanthropic institutions to support creators in the arts and entertainment industry. These funds are frequently earmarked to support projects that advance cultural preservation, economic growth, job creation, and social impact. The Alter-Ciné Foundation offers several yearly grants to young filmmakers in Africa, Asia and Latin America to direct documentary films that tell important stories. The African Development Bank has also been on this wave for years. In 2023, the organization unveiled the iDICE program—an ambitious endeavor aimed at fostering the growth of digital and creative enterprises. With a staggering $618 million in investments, this initiative is one of the bank’s attempts to invest in African-powered creativity.
2. Find the Right Fit
An important step to take while applying for funding is to identify the right fit. A practical way to achieve this is to create a spreadsheet of every organization that offers funding, detailing the deadlines and the exact type of projects they’re looking for. This way, you can streamline your hunt and be more intentional about the process.
There are numerous organizations and charities that provide grants or other forms of financial assistance to African film and television projects, but the right fit is imperative. It’s important to do some digging to find the opportunity that aligns the most with your project. This way, there is a higher chance that you will get an approval. The IDFA Bertha Fund, for example, supports independent, critical, and artistic voices from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Oceania regions.
To secure a grant from an organization like this, you will need to ensure that your objectives are aligned by honing in on the organization’s mission and goal. This will provide valuable insight into their preferences and priorities, and the mission they are aiming to fulfill. In your application, it will also be important to highlight the potential impact your film can have on the organization’s target audience, and how it aligns with their goals. Highlight any research or data that supports the positive outcomes your film can achieve.
Showcasing opportunities for collaboration and partnerships with the organization by highlighting how your project can provide mutual benefits by involving the organization in various stages of the filmmaking process. This could include involving their members or beneficiaries as actors, consultants, or advisors, or providing opportunities for promotion or outreach through joint initiatives.
3. Know the Ropes
To navigate the world of African development funding effectively, it’s important to become a savvy investigator. Eligibility criteria differ for each competition or grant opportunity, so make sure you read each application thoroughly, so that you can share your work with investors in the most concise, yet effective way. Organizations like the African Development Bank (AfDB) are pouring into grants that foster creativity and freedom of cultural expression in budding filmmakers. On an international scale, the prestigious Sundance Institute offers several resources to creators including a grant that prioritizes films led by artists from Africa, China, India, Latin America, and the Middle East, according to its website. Creators living in the diaspora can also apply to this fee-free opportunity. By staying on the pulse of current funding programs, eligibility criteria, and application deadlines, you can increase your chances of securing financial support.
4. Build Relationships
In an industry built on collaboration and storytelling, investing time and effort into building relationships is not just important — it’s essential. Good old-fashioned relationship-building can help to foster trust, inspire creativity, and open doors to new opportunities. Strong relationships enable filmmakers to assemble talented teams, secure funding, access resources, and navigate the intricate web of the industry. A great way to navigate this is to keep your ear to the ground. Industry events like Sundance’s Collab online events that draw in creators globally to learn from, and engage with industry experts, network and get your name and brand out in the open. Another major event is the prestigious African Film Festival. It can get really expensive to attend these events, so it is a great idea to offer to volunteer at these events. Volunteering creates a win-win situation, because it gives you first-hand access to many film power players and other rising creators who are looking to get their name out.
5. Know Before You Go
Before crafting a proposal, it is imperative to know the pulse of your work. What do you stand for? What is the crux of the film or TV project? You need to also have a concise explanation for your work- an elevator pitch, if you will -that is compelling enough to draw attention. In crafting your pitch, be prepared to highlight an in-depth overview of the project, its goals, and its potential impact. Know the answers to questions about the project’s budget, timeline, and creative vision, because this will keep you ahead of the curve. Additionally, it is important to treat your project as a full – fledged business, and that means knowing, and highlighting any potential risks or challenges that may arise during the development and production of the project.
Film & TV
From YouTube to Netflix, African Folktales Open Doors for Loukman Ali
“Am I being Western?” he asks. “No. We’re talking about love, and it is between two people. And as far as I’m concerned, whether it’s a man and a man, a woman and a woman, a man, and a woman, I don’t think there’s anything wrong as long as it’s genuine love.”
In Wura, Rogers Ofime brings queer characters out of the shadows, challenging Nigeria’s long-held social norms.
Dubbed as Showmax’s first Nigerian telenovela, with plans on making it their longest-running one, with over 200 episodes, Wura follows Wura Amoo-Adekola (Scarlet Gomez), a mother and ruthless businesswoman who is ready to do whatever it takes for her gold mining business to succeed.
In Wura, Femi (Seyi Akinsola) and Lolu (Iremide Adeoye), two queer characters, are allowed to exist as they are without the implication that they are abominations, a common theme in mainstream Nollywood. While there are a few productions where queer characters are beginning to be respected, humanizing them has always been a problem, something Wura takes seriously.
While creating the show, Ofime wanted to stay true to its South African adaptation, The River, where these characters also exist. “So, when we were going to adopt it, we asked questions like ‘Would it be accepted in Nigeria?’ ‘Should we change it to a boy and a girl?’ ‘A love triangle?’ But then, we had to remind ourselves that there wasn’t anything wrong with two people of the same sex being in love and that the fact that it isn’t accepted in Nigeria doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” Ofime tells STATEMENT.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
STATEMENT: You’ve worked on many projects and have been in the industry for years. What has it been like for you so far?
Ofime: Well, I think it’s been fun. It’s always interesting when you do what you love to do and what you’re passionate about. And that’s the one thing that has kept me going. I’m doing what I love and have carved a niche for myself in the industry regarding the stories I tell.
I like to tell provocative stories. Stories that can change the status quo. So I think it’s been an interesting journey so far.
The story of Femi and Lolu was provocative. What was it like to tell it? Were there any challenges faced?
Honestly, there was no challenge. There was nothing. We don’t face challenges telling the stories of a boy and girl in love, so why now? Why are we giving it attention? Why are we making it feel like there’s something wrong that we’re doing? There’s nothing wrong with the story. There’s nothing wrong with the creative approach because it is what happens in our day-to-day existence. We all must come to the acceptance of it because it is what it is.
This is the first Nollywood show on a major service that isn’t offensive when showing queer love. And we know there’s still a long way to go, so what do you think about that?
On the contrary, Nollywood has come to embrace it. Do we have many confident producers telling these [queer] stories? Maybe not, and perhaps not many of us, but it’s been accepted. Like, a friend recently won a Berlinale award for his gay drama, and that’s not the first. As I said, it’s not Westernization but the fact that we must embrace this part of our existence.
Do we have queer people in Nigeria? Yes. Do some of us accept them? Yes. I’m not here to tell people; please accept queer people because they’re in love. They’re in love, and you have to take it or leave it.
Why was it essential to bring The River to Nigeria?
Firstly, The River was very successful. And secondly, we knew it would work in terms of our social milieu. The only area, as you pointed out, was the queerness. The River is in its 6th season in South Africa; it’s done about three seasons in Kenya and two seasons in Portugal, if I’m correct. And so when they approached me to do this for Nigeria, I checked and saw the good ratings, and thought, “why not?”
Were you involved in the casting process?
Yes, I was. So our casting process was very long and tedious, but yes, I was involved, and of course, Mnet was involved too. So we called for an open audition, and then we streamlined to the number of people we wanted from the open audition. And in fact, you’d be amazed at how many actors wanted to play the part of Lolu and Femi.
I was shocked, but seeing people auditioning to play these characters was also encouraging, as we had about 15 actors for the role of Lolu and about 20 for Femi before we pruned down to three and then from three to the final two. And the actors we eventually got for the role knew what it entailed. They got close, would call themselves babies, and held hands, which made the on-screen chemistry believable.
What stood out between both actors?
We didn’t want stereotypes. Do you know what I mean? We tried to avoid stereotypes about queer men and how they must look or sound. So we looked out for good screen chemistry and screen presence in delivery. Also, they were more convincing than the others, so they landed the role.
So what should viewers expect in the next season?
It is going to get better. I mean, we saw people complain about Femi and Lolu. Meanwhile, we didn’t show them doing anything. But wait for it; our viewers won’t be disappointed. We had two queer characters in The River and got to see more. So, expect the same.