OP-ED | The African perspective is leading the entertainment content revolution

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Monde Twala is the senior Vice President, General Manager ViacomCBS Networks Africa, and Peer Lead at BET International. (Supplied)
Monde Twala is the senior Vice President, General Manager ViacomCBS Networks Africa, and Peer Lead at BET International. (Supplied)
  • It's encouraging to see this content revolution being led by African youth.
  • There’s a definite golden thread found in today's winning African content: reverence.
  • By appreciating their heritage, African youth have made a phenomenal impact on the accuracy of the global African narrative.  

Through the lens of the entertainment industry, Africa is winning. There's a strong and solid emergence of a confident African child, breaking borders and making global headlines. 

The world is finally sitting up and paying full attention to the African story being told via a diverse range of regional genres in film, music, spoken word, books, dance, fashion, architecture, art, and other entrepreneurial pursuits.   

As a proud Pan-Africanist with over 20 years in media and broadcasting, I am elated to see the results of the content revolution that has taken decades of collaborative efforts made by many African storytellers who came before us, come to fruition in such a major way.  

Today's stories and artistic manifestations are deep-seated in those of historical African leaders and legends. Think of Queen Nzinga Mbande, warrior queen of Angola who fought for independence, Mali's Mansa Musa argued to be the richest man in history, Fela Kuti a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, composer, political activist and Pan-Africanist regarded as the pioneer of Afrobeat and King Shaka Zulu, warrior and custodian of the Zulu Kingdom, amongst many others.  

For a continent with a majority youth population, the highest globally at over 60%, it's encouraging to see this content revolution, like many others in the past, being led by African youth. 

As a long-standing proponent of authentic African storytelling and a platform for initiatives that represent and empower diverse content creators and aggregators, ViacomCBS Networks Africa (VCNA), is particularly excited about Africa's future in the global entertainment arena.  

This year's Emmy Awards were another way to measure the success of African storytelling. Scooping her first Emmy Award for I May Destroy You this year, writer, co-director, executive producer, actress and first-generation child of Ghanaian immigrants Michaela Coel, intrinsically integrates Ghanaian culture into her series, through the lens of her character Bella - a black Brit, who, in one of the episodes, writes Twi, the Ghanaian dialect of the Ashanti, into the script - a rare occurrence for primetime viewing in the UK. 

Born to a Senegalese father and American mother, actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae has risen to stardom with her African American storytelling style in her multiple Golden Globes and Emmy Awards nominated series Insecure. As the first black woman to create and star in her own cable show, Rae has committed to investing in future storytellers with the launch of a script-to-screen partnership with Black Entertainment Television (BET) to develop new writing talent - a move that will undoubtedly breed a barrage of future African talent and storytellers.   

One of my favourite African proverbs, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together," to me, is the epitome of storytelling: community and collaboration.

And one such example of the power of "going together" is Beyoncé’s 2019 masterpiece The Lion King: The Gift, which she describes as "a new experience of storytelling".

A very long way from the stereotypical film Coming to America days, where Africa was still referred to as a homogeneous entity and littered with inappropriate humour derived from assumptions about the continent, The Gift,  features today's African stars.

The music, dances, costumes, hairstyles, make up and sets were designed to showcase the beauty and richness of the cultures of the continent and diaspora.  

Interestingly, three decades later although still receiving criticism for its portrayal of African culture, some strides have been made in the second offering of the 1988 film including African cast members such as Nigerian-American singer, songwriter, and record producer Davido, Nigerian-American actor Rotimi Akinosho and South African actor and human rights activist Nomzamo Mbatha, a track list featuring African musicians as well as costumes from South African knitwear brand MaXhosa by Laduma Ngxokolo who dresses the fictional royal household of Zamunda. 

Beyoncé is of course no stranger to African storytelling - in fact, she's a consistent contributor and collaborator - she worked with Tofo Tofo, the Mozambican pantsula dancers who appeared in her 2011 Run the World (Girls) video, featured award winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk We Should All Be Feminists on her 2013 hit ***Flawless, and also recruited a local Zulu choir to do backing vocals during her 2018 set at Global Citizen Fest South Africa's performance of her 2008 song Halo’. 

The diasporic connections made through these important collaborations have resulted in award winning work: Nigerian born Wizkid won big at this year's MTV Video Music Awards in the Best Cinematography category for Brown Skin Girl, a collaboration with Beyoncé, Blue Ivy, SAINt JHN and in the film's win in the category Outstanding Costumes for a variety, nonfiction or reality programme, boasts a list of African fashion collaborators who created a kaleidoscope of cultural references including South African award-winning contemporary multimedia visual artist, Trevor Stuurman, Côte d'Ivoire–based designer Loza Maléombho and Nigerian Brooklyn based Twin jewellery designers L'Enchanteur amongst others. 

Music is of course the blueprint of African storytelling, and, if you drive into any South African township today from Soshanguve to Soweto, you will hear the prevalent baselines of Africa's latest musical gift, Amapiano. Amapiano, isiZulu for "the pianos" - a hybrid of afrobeat, deep house and jazz and lounge music, is taking the world by storm.

Hot off the London summer concert circuit, MTV Base Inside Life: The Major League DJs reality show duo, twins, Bandile and Banele Mbere, have a clear mission: to take Amapiano to the world. Originally a genre that is said to have been snubbed locally, for being "too ghetto" for the charts, Amapiano is fast gaining global popularity and the The Major League DJs have already played Amapiano sets to sold out venues in the world's biggest cities. With its grassroots being in township backrooms, it's given the township dweller a form of identity and importance and a sense of much needed hope in tackling the socioeconomic challenges of township life. 

MTVBase, Africa's biggest music channel, has been the bridge to international stages for many African personalities. The MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs) have recognised the talent of musicians and personalities from across the continent, including, but not limited to Angolan singer Anselmo Ralph, South African rapper, songwriter, entrepreneur and record producer, Cassper Nyovest, Nigerian musician, singer-songwriter, rapper, lawyer, entrepreneur and television personality D'Banj, Kenyan-raised Lupita Nyong'o, South African comedian, television host, writer, producer, political commentator, actor and host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Trevor Noah.

There's a definite golden thread found in today's winning African content: authenticity. 

By genuinely loving, respecting and appreciating their heritage, African youth have made a phenomenal impact on the accuracy of the global African narrative.  

I believe the African perspective should be shared through all possible levels of content production. What we do best at VCNA is produce content and entertainment for the culture by the culture, content for the youth by the youth because we know that young people not only want to see themselves on screen, but also want to be their authors of their own stories. This includes African production companies, crew and talent.  

The successes I've mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we have, and still need to achieve in telling the full African story. I believe female and gender diverse content needs to occupy many more platforms, persons with disabilities are still not adequately represented in front of and behind the camera and the fascinating world of Africa's oral history including intriguing mythical creatures with magical powers remain absent from our screens too - we definitely need to see many more African animation and superheroes.  

With the ability to cater for the growing global resonance for African culture, VCNA, through our creative content arm, VIS (ViacomCBS International Studios), welcomes the content revolution with open arms.  

Monde Twala is the senior Vice President, General Manager ViacomCBS Networks Africa, and Peer Lead at BET International.


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