(Photo credit: Getty/Kelechi Amadi Obi)
In their first in-depth interview since the March announcement of a partnership that will bring authentic African stories to a wider audience, Idris Elba and Mo Abudu, founder of Lagos, Nigeria-based EbonyLife Media, are upbeat and hopeful about the future of African cinema and talent.
In the March 19 interview with Deadline, the duo shares their vision to elevate African talent in the entertainment industry, leveraging their respective companies — Green Door Pictures and EbonyLife TV — to amplify African stories and voices.
Despite the challenges, such as the negative connotations associated with the term “Nollywood” and resistance from gatekeepers to new African stories (both expressed in the interview), they are determined to greenlight high-quality projects and support the growth of African filmmakers through capacity-building initiatives like the EbonyLife Creative Academy in Lagos.
They express their optimism and excitement about the future of African cinema and the opportunities it offers.
We read the entire interview and, from it, extracted the highlights below, with supporting quotes:
- Mo Abudu reveals her ambition to make a global blockbuster that will put Africa on the map, and the challenges she faces with budgets, gatekeepers, and scriptwriters: “I’m obsessed with getting a global blockbuster to come out of Africa, something that will put us on the map […] We’re told the numbers are growing, and they’re getting subscribers [streamers] based on the budgets that are being invested in the shows that we do. But we have the same costs in production. It doesn’t cost me any less to rent an area or equipment than it does in, say, England, but our margins are lower.” – Mo Abudu
- Idris Elba talks about his work with the Ghanaian government to create incentive packages for filmmakers and creatives that allow them to utilize investments from international partners and stretch them further within Africa: “If we’re looking for streamers to give us more money for the film, it’s going to be a while before that happens, so we have to find mechanisms that allow our value to be raised internally.” – Idris Elba
- Mo Abudu discusses the importance of capacity-building and upskilling filmmakers through the EbonyLife Creative Academy, which she runs in Lagos and plans to roll out across the continent: “We know that in order for Africa to have the best filmmakers, we must give them the tools to do so. So many I’ve met are confident and self-made. If they are given capacity early, they’re just going to fly.” – Mo Abudu
- Elba and Abudu address the prejudice and misconception that Africa faces from the global film community, and how they aim to change that through their stories: “Prejudice is a fair word, and sustained prejudice is what has happened to Africa, which we have to fight. There’s a misconception that everything is corrupt, conflict is everywhere, people will get malaria, and all of that kind of thing. Stories are where we can make a difference.” – Idris Elba | “We’re still facing challenges when it comes to gatekeepers who are resistant to new stories from our continent with different backdrops.” – Mo Abudu
- The two have known of each other and their work for years but have never physically met until recently: “Our circles have been adjacent for years — probably since the early 2000s. When I started to see what she was doing with EbonyLife TV, I saw this woman that was coming up. She’s different; she’s got a voice, and she’s got perspective.” – Idris Elba on Mo Abudu
- Mo Abudu explains why she strongly despises the term Nollywood and prefers to use terms like African filmmakers or Nigerian filmmakers: “Do you know the history behind the word? A Canadian journalist came to Nigeria and decided that he was going to give us the name Nollywood, and that was it. It’s stuck since then. I hate the word Nollywood. The term Nollywood itself is a bad genre of filmmaking. We all know what Nollywood is supposed to represent — it’s the VHS films that were made back in the day. So, to still be called Nollywood, for me, is a no. We need to use terms like African filmmakers or Nigerian filmmakers.” – Mo Abudu
- Idris Elba and Mo Abudu talk about the diversity and spectrum of stories coming out of Africa, from folklore and tradition to Afrofuturism and modern women: “If there is a common thread, I’d say that Africans want to tell a version of their truth.” – Idris Elba
- They’ve both shown a commitment to telling African/diaspora stories, and they’ve used their platforms and influence to advocate for more diversity and representation.
- They’ve both demonstrated their ability and willingness to collaborate with various partners, such as streaming platforms, studios, governments, and other filmmakers, to create opportunities and co-productions for African talent and stories.
- They’ve invested in capacity-building and education initiatives for emerging African filmmakers, such as the EbonyLife Creative Academy and the incentive packages in Ghana, to provide them with the skills, mentorship, and resources they need to succeed in a competitive market.
- They’ve both expressed their interest and excitement for exploring different genres and themes of African stories, from folklore and tradition to Afrofuturism, and they want to bring authentic and diverse voices to the forefront.
There are some concerns, notably, there’s no mention of the Franco-Anglo divide or the role of former colonial powers (especially the French) in African film industries — a legacy of colonialism, which has significant implications. So when they say “Africa” (which is said plenty), it’s not entirely clear what their definition encompasses. It’s possible that their focus is primarily on Anglophone Africa, but without a specific definition or context, this remains an assumption.
Also, the conversation does not delve into the specific implications of ongoing technological disruptions on their initiatives or the broader African media landscape, which poses both challenges and opportunities.
But it’s too early to say what might be reasonable to expect that their new collaboration will yield.
For now, the plan appears to be: produce a slate of high-quality and original films and TV shows that can travel; provide a platform and a pipeline for African talent to access global markets and opportunities; contribute to the growth and development of the African film industries, by creating jobs, generating revenue, enhancing skills, and fostering innovation; challenge the stereotypes and prejudices that Africa faces in the global film community, by telling stories that are nuanced, complex, and empowering.
Read the full interview here.
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