As African cinema continues to gain ascendancy on the global stage, the industry secures yet another win. Just recently, Netflix announced that Star Wars actor John Boyega will be partnering with them through his Upper Room Productions Shingle to produce Non-English films revolving around Africa. Netflix announced that the indie production company founded by Boyega,
“Will develop film projects based on stories, cast, characters, crew, literary properties, mythology, screenplays and/or other elements in or around African countries.”
This development is in line with Boyega’s recent ambition to tell Africa’s story better, different from what is portrayed by Western media. He plans to also drop his affiliation with Hollywood in the meantime. Reacting to the announcement by Netflix, he said,
“It thrills me to partner with Netflix to develop a slate of non-English language feature films focused on African stories. My team and I are excited to develop original material. We are proud to grow this arm of our business with a company that shares our vision.”
Movie Production Challenges in Africa
Although the cinematic in African movies are beginning to level up to global appeal, many African producers still face severe challenges. Unlike in the developed world, African producers and aspiring filmmakers lack access to training schools with the best facilities. As a result, bringing the script to life is often challenging. At other times, they may have to make do with mediocre facilities, leading to equally mediocre movies.
Also, Securing funding for movies is a stiff hill to climb. Unlike their counterparts in the West, African producers have to cast actors, co-opt crew members who have to work for peanuts. Sometimes, the staff have to work for free. Echoing this sentiment is Mia Malan, a South African filmmaker. At the Austin Film Festival in 2020, he said,
“Money is always an issue. I had a cameraman who worked at a tenth of the rate that an American cameraman would have worked at. The only way I could afford to shoot this film was to call in favors from people.”
There is also the issue of piracy. Across Africa, piracy has been an issue that has robbed creatives in the entertainment industry of revenue. Illegal downloads, reproduced materials, etc. mean that the average person can afford these contents—at the detriment of filmmakers.
Can John Boyega Surmount these Problems?
Having the backing of Netflix, John Boyega is almost certain to succeed. Moreover, despite the looming financial and piracy challenges African filmmakers are stepping up their game—and are reaping the rewards. Since Netflix’s entry into the African market, filmmakers who have partnered with the streaming company have seen their revenues almost triple.
The emergence of African Netflix originals has also helped stem the surge of piracy. Until now, the trend among movie viewers in Africa was downloading movies illegally from sites and buying pirated CDs. However, with the entry of Netflix into African markets, that has greatly reduced, as many are now inclined towards streaming on the platform.
Will the John Boyega-Netflix Partnership Break Down the Barriers Facing African Filmmakers?
It goes without saying that many Africans who can not afford Netflix’s subscription may be left out in John Boyega’s project. Hence, he and Netflix will have to work a way around distribution. They must factor in the large number of Africans without reliable Internet. It is one thing to make movies for Africans and another to make sure they view them. Overcoming this challenge will serve as a launchpad for the next level for African movies.
Upper Room and Netflix must also take note of the menace of piracy. Although the problem of piracy persists, the entry of Netflix into the African market has done some good. Streaming and downloading on Netflix has meant that very few are still interested in illegal downloading. Boyega and Netflix sure know that tightening the screws on piracy is extremely crucial for the success of their project.
Funding and personnel quality shortfalls are still huge problems. But how will this partnership navigate its way through this? Boyega’s Upper Room, as well as Netflix, boast some of Africa’s best talents in filmmaking. We will be watching to see how this partnership impacts the African movie industry.