In its latest effort to penetrate the African market, Netflix, the streaming giant, has recently partnered with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on an ambitious project to discover gifted African filmmakers by launching a short-film competition. Under the theme, “African Folktales, Reimagined”, African talent across the continent will be able to showcase their creative skills by reimaging the region’s popular folktales. The final product of this competition will result in an anthology of African folktales, comprised of the six winning short films, which will debut on the platform in 2022.
Although there seems to be an increasing effort to invest and capitalise on African talent globally, Africa’s creative industries, particularly the film industry, remain grossly undervalued, underexploited, and underserved. Currently, Africa’s film and audio visual industry contribute just US$5 billion to GDP and employs around 5 million people continent-wide, according to the recently launched African Film Industry: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth report from UNESCO. These numbers pale in comparison to the potential US$20 billion in GDP and 20 million jobs the industry could produce annually at peak level, still according to the landmark UNESCO report.
Beyond its formidable use as a soft power tool, the African film industry can and should play an integral role in the socio-economic development strategy of the continent. With a wealth of intricate cultures and largely untold stories intertwining, as well as the youngest population on the planet, the African creative landscape represents a goldmine of ideas, content, and talent. For too long, cultural and creatives industries (CCIs) haven’t been considered viable investments and career choices. This must be urgently addressed and remedied. Both the public and private sector must grasp the opportunity CCIs represent and the role they could play in diversifying economies across the continent.
According to UNESCO: “CCIs are also proven to be one of the most innovative and resilient sectors in times of crisis, employing a large number of young people and women in high-skilled jobs while also encouraging entrepreneurship.” However, fully tapping into the potential of CCIs, and especially the film industry, remains challenging in the region as aspiring talent are often faced with a multitude of obstacles. In fact, the filmmaking industry remains largely informal and underfunded, with only 44% of countries having an established film commission and 55% of countries having a film policy. Formalising the sector requires establishing and maintaining an enabling environment, underpinned by robust regional policies, beneficial to creatives and investors across the continent alike.
“The African film industry can and should play an integral role in the socio-economic development strategy of the continent.”
– Dr Yaya Moussa
The mass digitalisation process observed over the last 20 years has created a deep cultural change in the way people create and access content globally. Aspiring African filmmakers and content creators are now able to access a wealth of online knowledge from their mobile devices. Furthermore, the ever-growing subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) sector in Africa is expected to nearly quadruple from 3.5 million subscribers in 2020 to 13 million subscriptions in 2025. Now is the time to heavily invest in African content creators and filmmakers, who will bring the best and most authentic stories the continent has to offer, to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand of consumers across the region and beyond.
For generations Africans have shared stories about who they are and where they come from. It is fair to say that the art storytelling is deeply embedded in our continent’s social fabric, now is the time to embed it our economic fabric as well. The African filmmaking industry has an integral part to play in the socio-economic development of Africa and acknowledging this as fact is the first of many steps towards unleashing the full potential of this sector.