Storytelling is a very deep African cultural expression. Just pay attention to the market woman narrating an incident to a friend or a mother speaking to her kids or the abandon with which children express stories to each other or the colorful visuals of our rituals and festivals.
No surprise therefore that Africans were quick to embrace the medium of film when it finally arrived. It presented an opportunity to amplify expressions and community. Ghana was no different in its appreciation of this innovative art form that immediately found a home in the hearts of the people
The people found ways to own it and soon, lines to the cinemas were long. Be it mobile cinema or bricks and mortar. We met the world through cinema. To this day, I can still drum up the beats from my favorite Indian star and if I try hard enough, feel the sweat dripping down the arms of my crush in a Hollywood movie.
Soon the world will hear of Ghanaian cinema in particular. Be it ‘The boy-Kumasenu’ or our favorite ‘love brewed in the African pot’ or the famous film key arts coming out of Ghana.
But the revolution didn’t stop there. New graduates from the film school in Ghana will go on to spread Ghanain’s expertise in the art form to neighboring countries and collectively, the continent developed its own form of storytelling on the wheels of technology.
Very soon Nollywood, which is the nickname given to the Nigerian film industry, will rise to become the second-largest film market in the world, and West Africa will become the most predominant Film region on the continent, producing almost 3000 films annually. Ghana is always a close second to Nigeria.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, is leadership and when the leadership of African countries consistently failed to see the opportunities in the sector, the need to invest and design supporting policy and regulations, as well as infrastructure; when players failed to keep pace with innovation and global trends, when technology presented African audiences with diverse content with better product quality, this beautiful castle, built without a mind to a good foundation, crumbled fast.
Herein again is where the African States lost the plot! The relevance of the audiovisual sector is hinged to the very mindset of a people. By failing to remain competitive in the global landscape, Africa gradually seeded its stories and its cultural relevance, to the West and East of it.
By letting go of its narrative, the continent has lost face not only with the world but with its own people.
We have failed to ride the vehicle to self-expression and knowledge effectively. Continuing to grasp straws of religion and other forms of human expression and visualization to fill in the gap, as can be seen in our societies today. Leading to the general decline in cultural identity and self-expression, ultimately sapping away the passions of a people for Cinema as an art form and as a social activity.
Having one of the lowest barriers to entry, most importantly, Africans continue to lose in the opportunities to create jobs for the people and raise the spirit of the continent through more positive affirmative storytelling.
At a recent and largest gathering of Exhibitors, distributors, and filmmakers in the Mena region at the Meta Cinema Forum in Dubai, an important data point, hitherto unappreciated emerged from Ghana’s presentation; Africa presents to the sector, it is the largest growth opportunity. According to the CEO of the National Film Authority of Ghana, Ms. Juliet Yaa Asantewa Asante, it is intuitive that having plateaued or near plateaued in the United States, India, China, and the Middle East; Africa with its predominantly dynamic youth population, its rising middle class, its cultural diversity, and sheer numbers present the next frontier market for cinema investors looking for new audiences.
The question then is, why isn’t every major cinema house and distributor making a line to the continent? Why aren’t Governments seizing the opportunities to roll out attractive policies and incentives, why is an investment not flowing more freely towards African content and why aren’t the many cinema lovers finding a home in the art form from the continent?
One may find the core of the problem imbedded in the African saying ‘when the lion fails to tell its own stories, the story will always glorify the hunter!’
It is for this reason that Ghana is stepping out to sensitize the global
Cinema investment community to the latent opportunities, hidden in plain sight.
With an opportunity gap of over $15billion according to the UNESCO report, there is a total of fewer than 1000 screens to over a billion people on the continent. Estimating almost 800,000 people to one screen, as compared to the United States for instance of 7000 people to one screen.
The lack of attention to the African market may be attributed to many factors not removed from the general lack of attention the continent gets, fueled by propaganda media consistently portraying the market as a hot spot with very low incomes.
When indeed, some of the fastest-growing and safest markets exist on the continent and the truth is that return on investment is generally much higher on the continent and indeed, Africa now has the largest trading bloc on the globe with over 50 countries committed to the AFCFTA
The opportunity for exhibitors and distributors is huge and the scratching the surface approach by major players in the cinema business on the continent who enjoy mostly uninspired monopoly must be upgraded. This model is also mirrored by VOD platforms entering the space. A deep look into the approach of Netflix for instance, with over 2million subscribers on the continent, according to the latest UNESCO report, shows a very tokenistic investment model and approach when compared to Netfliks’ investment in other territories.
Despite its large population, the stories of its people are not valued and propelled by those who make money off the people’s love for cinema. The focus seems to follow the agenda of promoting global content to Africans as opposed to investment in the stories of the people and the infrastructure needed to invite the massive African populations to embrace its own content, develop it and Patronize it, even as global content also finds its own space in the hearts of the people, as it should be. The two must go hand in hand, according to the CEO of the NFA.
A well-modeled cinema network, reaching the many eager but deprived communities, substantive investments into African films, a revamp of the cinema culture encapsulates the strategic vision of the Ghana Government for Africa as a whole, as it positions itself as the Gateway to Cinema on the continent and invites business to look into this hitherto unexplored sector in Sub-Saharan Africa.
And why is Ghana the ideal partner? Ghana is the headquarters of AFCFTA, has a thriving democracy, a relatively free media space, good security set up, a population with a good profile of disposable income, a good cinema culture, a great storytelling landscape, a skilled labor force, and a film policy and Commission. All important elements to building a thriving cinema ecosystem
The world is ready for great African storytelling and Ghanaians are ready to re-imagine its cinema and re-embrace the cinema-going culture.
By: Juliet Yaa Asantewa Asante