The huge success of Nigerian Netflix thriller The Black Book was celebrated not just in Nollywood, but throughout the African film industry. The film reached No 3 in the Netflix charts and was hailed as a trailblazer for African cinema. The director, Editi Effiong, called the achievement of reaching 5.6m views in the first two days after its release “historic”.
As an actor, film-maker and now CEO of Ghana’s National Film Authority, I’ve watched the transformation of African cinema first-hand, from the days of scarce resources to the dawn of a new era where our stories are reaching an international audience. Our journey reflects a broader renaissance, one where our youthful vibrancy and creative spirit are crafting a new narrative.
With global giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime making significant inroads into the market with content deals and dedicated offices, we’ve seen a glimpse of what’s possible. Yet the true potential of our continent’s creativity remains vast and largely untapped.
Africa has always been the home of storytellers. The large number of film festivals is testament to the continuing culture of film on the continent. But it is not enough. In Ghana, for example, we have one of the oldest film schools at the University of Media, Arts and Communication (it includes the former National Film and Television Institute), but the lack of political commitment and public and private investment in infrastructure, the sale of the state-owned Ghana Film Industry Corporation in 1996, and inadequate tax incentives have stymied our output.
The number of distributors focused on Africa is limited, and investors continue to perceive the sector as high risk. It’s staggering, too, to consider that across this vast continent, there are fewer than 1,700 cinema screens, one for every 750,000 people. To put this into perspective, China has 82,000 screens, and India more than 9,000.
Lack of investment in studios, cinemas and talent means that, despite recent successes, the majority of Africans struggle to find stories that resonate or represent us, and this is a loss to the global community. Africa has a wealth of beautiful stories that deserve to find a wider audience, but this can only happen if film-makers get funding to make good quality films, supported with adequate marketing, and access to distribution and outlets.
The international business and cinema world cannot afford to not have Africa at the table. Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 70% of sub-Saharan Africa under 30. By 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of global youth. This means we have a vast pool of talent, and an untapped audience who are the consumers and trendsetters of tomorrow.
The inaugural Africa Cinema Summit taking place this week in Accra aims to address these barriers – and to discuss strategies to harness the energy and creativity of our industry, a market Unesco values at more than $20bn.
The summit will explore the full spectrum of the cinema experience, from distribution and marketing to how our culinary traditions, such as the sharing of plantain snacks instead of popcorn or replacing soft drinks with the hibiscus flower drink sobolo enrich the African moviegoing experience. These details might seem minor, but they’re integral to our identity and the immersive nature of our storytelling.
Cinema is a unifying force. It builds communities, preserves culture, ensures representation, creates jobs and amplifies critical voices.
My role as a female leader in this industry is twofold: to champion our cinematic aspirations and to ignite a passion for film-making in young African women. We’re at a pivotal moment when the representation of women on and off the screen is critical. Our stories, perspectives and creativity are indispensable in shaping a balanced cinematic narrative.
As the world’s cinemas seek revival in the post-pandemic era, Africa’s burgeoning market is a beacon of hope for the global cinema community.