Photo credit: Aham Ibeleme


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.




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.

Photo credit: Netflix


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: Gabrielle Kannemeyer / Netflix


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?




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: Netflix

Film & TV

Schoolgirls Use Science to Outsmart the Villains in a New Super Hero Series

Photo credit: Netflix

Netflix’s foray into African animation heralds a new era for creators across the continent

By Kenechukwu Nwokedi

August 2023

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.

Film & TV

From YouTube to Netflix, African Folktales Open Doors for Loukman Ali

A solo filmmaker learns how to collaborate with large studios

By Chisom Peter Job

July 2023

  • A new partnership with Netflix offers up and coming filmmakers the chance to reimagine African folktales.

  • Loukman Ali gained valuable experience working with Big World Cinema, learning the ropes of a large scale production.

  • African Folktales is now available on Netflix.


“We were working with guns and shooting in an area going through disarmament, with a couple of crazy warriors in the region who had guns while the government was trying to take them [the guns].”


Loukman Ali is a successful solo filmmaker who was prolific on YouTube. In 2021, Netflix launched a short-film competition with UNESCO in Sub-Saharan Africa, focused on African Folktales, Reimagined. The winners got $75,000 toward mentorship opportunities and the projects, which premiered on March 16th.


The Ugandan filmmaker’s film, Katera of the Punishment Island, was selected as a finalist. The story follows a woman who exacts revenge on the powerful man who leaves her and other unmarried, pregnant women on a remote island to die. The film, based on “something that used to happen in Uganda a long time ago,” is an exploration of the grief these women endured. The idea came after Ali watched a documentary about a woman saved from the island. “Something in my brain sparked when I watched that documentary. I wondered what would happen if one of the girls escaped and came out to seek revenge.”


Ali felt the competition and mentorship helped him develop deeper skills when it comes to story structure. “During the whole process of writing and editing, I learned a lot from the Netflix and Big World Cinema team because there are many things I’d never thought about that way,” he tells STATEMENT.” He explained that those companies can anticipate problems before it becomes too costly to make changes.


Ali shared his major problem dealing with filming scenes with guns, after the stuntman quit. “There’s a point where we used a gatling gun. We thought we would hire one from the police or the army, but then we quickly realized that they wouldn’t let that happen, which led us to make one. And as you can imagine, that’s illegal, and we were trying to be as legal as possible,” he says, “which led us to create bits of a gun and then assemble and disassemble after because we wanted to be in a gray zone where we weren’t breaking any laws.”


Working with Big World Cinema allowed Ali to understand how collaboration operates on a larger, studio-level scale. As a filmmaker, he knew quite a lot, but he also got to experience working with a team and understanding how the feedback loop works, things he wasn’t familiar with as a solo artist.