After a year off due to the pandemic, the Cannes Film Festival recently returned for its 74th edition, signalling the industry reopening after the most unprecedented year in recent history. Diversity and inclusion have been longstanding issues, not only for this particular event, but for the filmmaking industry as a whole. However, this year, Oscar winning director Spike Lee, being appointed as the first black jury president of the festival, and with five out of the nine jury members being women, it looks like we are finally moving in the right direction.
Nevertheless, African filmmakers, especially sub-Saharan filmmakers, are still heavily underrepresented at international events. Out of the 24 movies selected in the official competition this year, only two African films are in line for the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the ceremony. Furthermore, no African film has ever won this prestigious award, making Africa the only continent yet to have produced a winner. What does this tell us about the global perception of the African filmmaking industry? And what can be done to bring African stories and talent to the international stage where they belong?
The African filmmaking industry is as complex as the African continent itself. For a long time, Africa was an exotic backdrop for Western filmmakers. Rooted in the post-colonial Pan-African movement of the 1960s, filmmaking became a tool for emancipation and retaking control of the heavily stereotyped narrative crafted during colonial times. In French colonies, filmmaking went from being forbidden by law under colonial rule, to being funded by the French Ministry of Cooperation post-independence. Despite this funding, at the time, the industry still lacked basic infrastructure. At one point, it was easier to make African movies in Europe than in Africa.
Thankfully, today, new technology and training have facilitated the convergence between production and distribution, but we’re still a long away from international industry standards. Despite the continent’s film industry expanding and entering a new level of maturity, it still faces challenges when it comes to self-reliance. We must continue to nurture talent both in front and behind the camera. We must include African creatives in all aspects of the creative process, from conception to execution. This is vital in order to empower a golden generation of screenwriters, directors, and producers.
“Cultivating Pan-African pride in the filmmaking industry is essential to achieve a stronger sense of unity, which in turn will lead to better cooperation and exchange between the different movie industries present on the continent.”
– Dr Yaya Moussa
Beyond empowerment, it is imperative to provide African creatives with platforms to showcase their work and talent. Given the modest number of cinemas across the continent, as well as the socio-economic situation of the majority of the African population, movie screenings aren’t always the best way for creatives to showcase their latest projects. However, the internet has revolutionised the way we access and view visual content. Heavily investing in video-on-demand (SVOD) streaming platform, such as Africa Prime, to distribute Pan-African content, is the future of the industry on the continent. Going digital is our best bet if we are serious about going global.
Achieving international recognition requires achieving local recognition, first and foremost. International recognition shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate prize, but merely as a desirable addition to regional acknowledgment. Cultivating Pan-African pride in the filmmaking industry is essential to achieve a stronger sense of unity, which in turn will lead to better cooperation and exchange between the different movie industries present on the continent. From Lagos to Cape Town, N’Djamena to Kinshasa, Nairobi to Maputo, there are multitudes of stories waiting to be told in French, English, and Portuguese, as well as in Yoruba, Lingala, Xhosa and Swahili, to name just a few. Taking full advantage of the continent’s history, as well as its linguistic and cultural diversity, is our golden ticket to exporting afro-centric content worldwide.
It is often said that perceptions become reality. For the first time in a long time, Africans are taking charge of how they are perceived internationally and must seize this opportunity to change the narrative.