The rise of African cinema
African cinema is a vibrant and diverse industry that has been growing rapidly in recent years. The continent has produced some of the most acclaimed and influential filmmakers in the world, such as Abderrahmane Sissako, Mati Diop, Ousmane Sembène, and Haile Gerima. African films have also won prestigious awards at international festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, and the Academy Awards.
However, African cinema is not a monolithic entity, but rather a mosaic of different genres, styles, languages, and themes that reflect the rich and complex realities of the continent. African cinema is also shaped by the historical and political contexts of its production and distribution, which have been marked by colonialism, independence, dictatorship, democracy, globalization, and digitalization.
In this writeup, we will explore some of the key trends, challenges, and opportunities for growth in the African film industry, based on a recent report by UNESCO. We will also highlight some of the most notable examples of African films that illustrate these aspects.
One of the main trends in African cinema is the widespread use of new technologies, such as digital cameras, editing software, and online platforms. These technologies have lowered the costs and barriers of entry for aspiring filmmakers, who can now produce and distribute their films more easily and cheaply. They have also enabled more creative experimentation and innovation in terms of form and content.
For instance, Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry that produces around 2,500 films a year, is emblematic of this digital revolution. Nollywood films are mostly made with low budgets and minimal equipment, but they have a huge audience both within and outside Nigeria. They are also known for their popular genres, such as comedy, drama, romance, horror, and thriller, that cater to the tastes and expectations of their viewers.
Another trend in African cinema is the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers who are more aware of their artistic identity and cultural heritage. These filmmakers are often trained in film schools or workshops within or outside Africa, and they have access to more diverse sources of inspiration and information. They are also more engaged with social and political issues that affect their countries and communities, such as poverty, corruption, violence, migration, gender equality, and human rights.
For example, Mati Diop, a Senegalese-French filmmaker who won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2019 for her debut feature film Atlantics, is one of the most prominent representatives of this new wave. Her film is a hybrid of romance, mystery, and social commentary that explores the lives and dreams of young Senegalese people who face the harsh realities of migration and exploitation.
Despite its vitality and diversity, African cinema still faces many challenges that hinder its development and recognition. One of the main challenges is the lack of adequate funding and support from public and private sectors. According to UNESCO, only 44% of African countries have an established film commission and 55% have a film policy. Moreover, most African films rely on foreign funding sources that may impose certain conditions or limitations on their artistic vision or expression.
Another challenge is the scarcity of infrastructure and facilities for production, distribution, and exhibition of films. Africa has only 0.5% of the world’s cinema screens, which are mostly concentrated in urban areas. This means that many African films do not reach their potential audiences or markets within or outside the continent. Furthermore, many African films suffer from piracy and intellectual property violations that undermine their revenues and reputation.
A third challenge is the lack of education and training for film professionals and audiences. There are few film schools or workshops in Africa that can provide quality education and skills for aspiring filmmakers,
technicians, critics, or distributors. There is also a need to raise awareness and appreciation of African cinema among local audiences, who may prefer foreign films or other forms of entertainment.
Despite these challenges, African cinema also has many opportunities for growth and improvement.
One of them is the potential to create more jobs and income for millions of people who work in the film industry or related sectors. According to UNESCO, the film industry in Africa currently employs an estimated 5 million people and accounts for $5 billion in GDP. However, it could achieve its estimated potential to create over 20 million jobs and contribute $20 billion to the continent’s combined GDP,
if it receives more investment and support.
Another opportunity is the possibility to promote cultural diversity and dialogue through film. African cinema can showcase the rich and varied cultures, languages, histories, and identities of the continent, as well as its challenges and aspirations. It can also foster mutual understanding and cooperation among different countries, regions, or communities, as well as with other parts of the world.
A third opportunity is the capacity to inspire social change and development through film. African cinema can raise awareness and mobilize action on important issues that affect Africa, such as democracy, human rights, gender equality, environmental protection, health, education, and peace. It can also empower individuals and groups to express their views, stories, and creativity, and to challenge stereotypes,
prejudices, or injustices.
African cinema is a booming industry that has a lot to offer to Africa and the world. It is a powerful medium of artistic expression, cultural representation, economic development, social transformation, and global communication. However, it also faces many obstacles that need to be overcome with more resources, policies, strategies, partnerships, and initiatives. UNESCO’s report provides a comprehensive analysis and recommendations to help achieve this goal.