Authentic representation of various cultures in film and TV is integral to storytelling. Often, when privileged groups are in charge of telling a marginalised group’s stories, they rely on stereotypes, hearsay, or propaganda. If a writer who isn’t careful is in charge of the story, they will rely on harmful stereotypes or inaccurate representation. Regarding African movies, it’s most important to let Africans tell their stories.
This is because a lot of our knowledge is passed through oral history. What can be researched is recent. Traditional practices aren’t fully documented. Own Voices directors are best placed to make African stories because they have lived these stories. Various film companies are offering African filmmakers a chance to make African movies.
Here are the reasons why such opportunities are a good thing.
1. Less harmful representation
When people are in charge of their own stories, they can escape the pitfalls of harmful stereotypes.
In Hollywood, various people of colour were segregated into specific roles and couldn’t break away from them. Black people were cast as thieves, slaves, mammies, or servants. Asian actors were cast as hypersexualised dragon ladies, model minorities, femme fatales, and frail virginal lotus blossoms.
Africans were frequently portrayed as savages or illiterate people. By reclaiming their stories, these groups of people have been able to tell deep, resonant stories that don’t turn their characters into caricatures. Instead, people who can be relatable and familiar.
2. It can be used to raise awareness
In African society, various topics can be taboo. The lack of transparency among people can easily lead to the spread of misinformation and disinformation. TV shows like MTV’s Shuga (2009) were geared towards sex positivity and HIV/AIDS awareness, and destigmatisation.
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When big studios such as Viacom invest in African movies with Africans at the helm, there’s a net positive of entertainment and information.
3. It creates jobs
The entertainment industry is fickle. Audiences only want to spend money if the production is invested in itself. Low-budget films often don’t last or turn into jokes. When local storytellers get backing from major studios like Netflix, Showmax, and Viacom, it gives their stories more viewership.
This creates a cycle where studios make profitable films and hire more actors and film crews. As a result, an industry is formed where people can get secure livelihoods. African movie juggernauts like Nollywood have enabled Africans to adapt African literature to the big screen.
Furthermore, filming in tourist locations can also boost tourism revenue and jobs in that sector.
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4. Breakaway stars
While it may not be the goal for most actors, some get a chance at the big time in Hollywood. Stars like Lupita Nyong’o, whose breakout role was in MTV Shuga’s first two seasons, became an Oscar winner. Eventually, this paves the way for more actors to build careers and export their talents to other countries.
5. It’s a democratized process
Opportunities for African filmmakers by large studios or NGOs offer a more democratized process than established industries. Talented individuals who may not have funding or access to the industry get a chance to create well-produced African movies.
This also creates a network of African filmmakers who can teach each other tools of the trade.
African movies and TV shows have a great representation of African life. They also allow viewers to find relatable and validating content. White media dominate the film industry, and many viewers may wonder why people who look like them aren’t often behind the screen. But with more investment in African movies, more Africans can finally see themselves as their favourite heroes and villains.
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