THE battle for the hearts and minds of African viewers is getting hotter and it pits Netflix versus MultiChoice Africa. Netflix has a war chest of millions of dollars in its bid to wrest and secure pole position from long-time player on the continent MultiChoice. Content producers can only benefit from the tussle, in the process flipping the moral of the African proverb which says that the grass suffers when elephants fight.
African commissions on Netflix
Godwin Jabangwe may have been the first Zimbabwean to get a commission from Netflix for his Tunga animated movie about a young girl who travels to a mythical lost city on a mission to save her village from drought. It is a musical and will be set in Zimbabwe. Netflix got the project after an intense bidding war. That for me was good news and we covered the story in this publication. I believe the money is going to be good…But Netflix has done one better than its competition in serving the world Africa’s first original African series in Queen Sono played by South African actress Pearl Thusi. I watched the first episode and I was literally transported to one of my bucket-list destinations, Zanzibar. I could see the ghost of ancient slave trader Tippu Tip on the colourful market streets.
The opening scene is action packed and establishes Queen Sono’s James Bond-esque spy credentials as she beats down a couple of grown men. The rest I will not tell you except to say that it is a six-part series exclusively available on Netflix to its subscribers and vampish South African former beauty queen and actress Pearl Thusi is the lead. South African comedian Kagiso Lediga is on a roll these days as the show’s creator, writer and producer.
Zimbabwean star turn
Chiedza Mhende, who has featured in South African soapie Generations—the Legacy, features as the Special Operations Group (SOG) director-general Miri Dube. The Zimbabwean export has also appeared on Homeland and a movie called Love the One You Love. They have some feisty exchanges with Pearl Thusi’s Queen character in the first episode, setting the stage for what might become some cat fights between two alpha females in the series. I loved that Zimbabweans are able to escape a moribund economy and carve out a niche out there. The creative sector has been a big recipient of government lip service over the years. Nothing has really been done to inject resources into a sector with potential to create jobs and value for the economy. But that is a story for another day.
Netflix’s officials have reportedly been traversing the continent, led by the company’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, to cut deals with local creators. Sarandos affirmed the company’s commitment to African storytelling and placing it on a global stage. He revealed that Nigeria’s first original series will be fronted by film and television veteran Akin Omotoso. Demographically, the country just makes sense for any investor with its close to 200 million-strong population. Netflix’s African Originals boss Dorothy Ghettuba, a Kenyan, is quoted in Variety as saying: “It’s been an exciting week to crisscross the continent and be reaffirmed that we really have stories to tell.” I managed to use my pan-African network to secure the contacts of Ghettuba. I promise that in the not too distant future we will be bringing you an exclusive with her.
Local content producers
Joe Njagu, a much-respected film maker, would not commit when I asked him about whether he is angling to get a commission with Netflix. I can inform you that there may be something cooking on the horizon. Time will tell. For now, Ben Mahaka, another respected film maker, thinks that Zimbabwean film makers and content producers are on the right path. “I think Zim filmmakers have finally grasped the value of the visibility they get from working the festival circuit.
Of course, this comes with films that travel well like
The Cook Off (produced by Joe Njagu) and Gonarezhou. These films show that there’s capacity for quality content creation, even though our market is relatively small. Cook Off has gone everywhere and won prizes. Gonarezhou is also starting to make noise. They both scooped awards at the Pan-African Film Festivals in Los Angeles.”
What remains is for the Zimbabwean policymakers to come right. A film policy has taken some 40 years to develop. I wonder what successive bureaucrats at both the Ministry of Arts and Ministry of Information have been really doing. What a total waste of time. Anyway, next week I may just share with you what Nigeria and Botswana are doing for their creative sectors.