Here are some of the high points of African cinema in the year 2021.
This year has proven to be one of the most important years in the history of cinema across the globe. Think about it: Before the second quarter of 2020 was done, film executives and cinephiles predicted that the theatre business might be done with the emergence of streaming services across the world. In the heat of the pandemic, Brent Lang, Variety’s executive editor of film and media said:“It’s a very, very bad time to own a movie theater. With “No Time to Die” and “Dune” moving to 2021 and Cineworld shutting its locations, we are going to have to say goodbye to movie theaters until there’s a widely available vaccine”.
Joy Odiete, the CEO of Blue Pictures, who has been in the film business for more than 15 years spoke about the effects of the pandemic on the marketing and film promotion front. Odiete told 'This Is Africa' that as a marketer, she lost over 60 million naira ($158,151) during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Odiete, who recently opened a cinema, pivoted her business towards VoD. She said that VoDs don't need a lot of money for marketing, unlike cinemas where the filmmaker has to consider a huge marketing budget.
"Most of the content that was supposed to go into the theatre automatically ended up on Netflix and other platforms, which was a large chunk of our revenue," Odiete said.
Well, it's 2021, and we’ve got filmmakers and diverse movies back in the cinemas trying to recoup lost investments while navigating a growing demand for on-demand streaming content. Despite these challenges, the year delivered some amazing moments as the African content was introduced to new and existing audiences across the globe making the world pay attention to the extraordinary stories we are telling for both local and global export.
The year brought us some highly anticipated projects and collaborations that left us wanting more, while others taught us that there is more to be done to equally compete globally. As we close in on the year 2021, B-side shares with you ten of the best moments in African Film/TV from international collaborations to literature films adaptation, Oscar selections, emerging talent projects, blockbusters, stand-out and forward-thinking directorial debuts and some awe-inspiring Awards and film festivals and a whole lot more to look out for in the year 2022.
Mo Abudu signs Multiple Platform Film Titles For African Films in Hollywood.
Just as we settled into the new year, Media Mogul and CEO of Ebonylife Media Mo Abudu teamed up with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s film production company, Westbrook Studios to co-produce a slate of film and television projects each connected to the African continent.
According to Deadline, the deal is the first of its kind for Westbrook in Africa. Under the partnership, the companies will produce at least two series and one feature film. This deal came in two weeks after EbonyLife Media announced their two-year exclusive first-look deal with Sony Pictures Television in February, and eight months after signing a major deal to produce two new Nigerian originals plus licensed films and a series for Netflix.
In another record-breaking feat, the CEO announced this November that her media company, EbonyLife Studios, has become a case study for Masters’ students at the Harvard Business School. Mo Abudu announced this via her verified Instagram page on Thursday 18th of November 2021, where she revealed that this is the first time in history where a media company owned by a female African would be taught to Master’s students of Business Administration at Harvard.
These deals helped to set the tone for Nollywood in the year 2021 in terms of collaboration and content creation and also open the doors for filmmakers to get more exposure for their content. In less than a decade, Ebonylife Studios has produced some of the best content on the continent that has been exported to a larger audience, establishing Mo Abudu as a major driving force in Nollywood.
King of Boys : (Return of the King)
Three years after the release of King of Boys in cinemas across Nigeria, the highly-awaited sequel to one of the highest-grossing Nollywood movies of all time was released exclusively to Netflix in 2021, but this time as a seven-episode series. The series which was released globally ranked in the top 10 list in many countries. Although met with a lot of mixed reviews from critics and audiences, the Kemi Adebita project stands as a culture-defining moment for African television storytelling particularly Nollywood as it explores less popular film genres.
Asides from the storytelling, Kemi Adetiba also pursued promotion in a novel way by using merchandise to enhance the film’s popularity amongst fans. This approach is relatively new in Nollywood and proved to be quite genius – The merchandise was sold in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, the UK, the USA, and Canada with an all-in-one box going for ₦24,500 in Nigeria and $60, £44, and €52 in other countries. This move established that fans of Nollywood want branded souvenirs from films and tv shows they enjoy. Nigerian filmmakers can now take a cue from this and release limited merchandise to generate another form of revenue and market their work. It is also a huge advantage for other local streaming platforms to maximize Nollywood’s revenue generation potential.
With a perceived notion that language films hardly sell in Nollywood cinema, Tunde Kelani’s musical eponymous film ‘Ayinla’ based on the life of Ayinla Yusuf popularly known as Ayinla Omowura, an Apala musician who was stabbed to death by his manager, was released across cinemas to an exciting audience across generations in the south-western part of Nigeria on the 13th of June.
Released in less than half of the cinemas across the nation, Ayinla proved that it has all it takes to become a blockbuster as it gathered over eighty million naira at the box office making it one of the biggest movies in Nollywood for 2021. The film created a nostalgic moment for the older generation who knew Ayinla Omowura, danced to his music, and lived through his untimely and tragic death. It also introduced the much younger generation into the life of Ayinla and the effect that Apala music had in influencing the culture. The film also had one of 2021’s longest cinema runs due to the heightened interest of audiences who were excited to see what Tunde Kelani created following a long directorial hiatus.
Ayinla changed the way local language films are perceived by distributors who have always insisted cultural films can’t be successful in Nigerian cinema. The film took home the award for best film in cinematography at the 2021 Africa Movie Academy Award.
Blood and Water Season 2
Picking right where it left off after becoming one of the most successful projects from African cinema in 2020, Netflix’s critically acclaimed African original series Blood & Water season 2 premiered on the popular streamer’s platform on the 24th of September, 2021.
A teen drama series created entirely by Africans, with a diverse African cast, and produced on a Netflix budget, “Blood & Water” is certainly something of a novelty that draws audiences from different parts of the world. Blood and Water is very much relatable to Gen Z’s and this is one of the major factors, why the project is one of the most viewed series on the continent, ranking top 10 in several countries where Netflix operates and creating an exciting feel for African filmmakers.
Disney commissions Nigerian-Ugandan Animation Film.
After starting Kugali, an animation company in 2017, Nigerian and Ugandan friends Tolu Olowofoyeku, Hamid Ibrahim, and Fikayo Adeola are set to reach a much wider global audience than they could have hoped with their science fiction animation film series ‘Iwájú’ set to debut globally in 2022 on Disney+ fast-growing streaming service.
Iwájú, a name that loosely translates to “the future” in Yoruba, a language spoken in West Africa, is set in Lagos and will explore several thematic concerns from class and innocence to challenging the status quo. The creators see it as an opportunity for Disney to tell a modern and authentic African story to the world using the entertainment behemoth’s animation and distribution prowess. Disney used the investor day to unveil several major announcements extensions to its storied franchises including Star Wars and for its Marvel characters. The world’s largest entertainment company is expanding and boosting its range of content in Africa as it doubles down with its Disney + platform to compete in the so-called streaming wars with Netflix and more recently Amazon Prime in Africa.
Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) sets the festivities in motion for the African film industry as it brings filmmakers from all over the continent to watch and celebrate African motion pictures while also showcasing African content to the rest of the world. AFRIFF not only showed films but also created high networking activities after a year-long haul of physical awards and festivities due to the CoronaVirus Pandemic.
Rumour Has it season 3
With a growing audience for web series in Nollywood over the last few years, Rumour Has it returned with a third season after a three-year break, driving lovers of the Ndani TV series back to streaming in no time. With a new cast and storyline, the series provided a visually appealing journey full of twists that kept the audience glued to the screen. The fan-favourite ten-episode series is surely one of the most exciting moments on African TV.
Castle and Castle Season 2
In a better upgrade from the first instalment, season two of Netflix’s original project Castle and Castle (aka C&C) offers a good storyline for a legal drama series. The six-episode series follows the lives of Tega Castle (Richard Mofe Damijo) and Remi Castle (Dakore Akande), a power couple who run one of the most successful law firms in Lagos. The couple’s conflict of interests toward career dimensions tears them apart further after a case that divided the loyalties in the firm separated them in the first season. The series premiered as Netflix Africa's first original legal drama series and was created with the aim of telling a uniquely African story to a global audience. Castle and Castle were met with so much excitement by fans in Nigeria who think the series is worth every hype it gets.
Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) is a Nigerian drama film produced, written, and directed by twin brothers Arie Esiri and Chuko Esiri on their directorial debuts. The film is made of two chapters called Spain and Italy. Eyimofe is the first Nigerian film to be shot on a 16mm film and it stars Jude Akuwudike and Temi Ami-Williams in the main lead roles. The film opened to extremely positive reviews from critics and was screened at various international film festivals in 17 countries including the Berlin Film Festival.
Eyimofe premiered in Nigerian cinemas in 2021 as a remarkable arthouse film which is a less popular filmmaking approach in Nigeria. A few months after its premiere in Nigeria, Janus Film announced the acquisition of 'Eyimofe' for the North American market. With the latest development, Janus Films makes history as the first Nigerian film in Criterion Collection. Criterion Collection is an American home-video distribution company that focuses on licensing, restoring, and distributing "important classic and contemporary films.
The Criterion Collection is dedicated to gathering the best films from around the world and publishing them in DVD and Blu-ray editions of the highest technical quality. It includes important classic and contemporary films and serves film and media scholars, cinephiles, as well as public and academic libraries. The Criterion Collection is renowned and includes over 1,000 films. And to top up its home run, the film won five awards at the 2021 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), including the prestigious Best Director and Best Nigerian Film awards.
Juju Stories is a three-part anthology film exploring Nigerian folklore and urban legend, written and directed by C.J. Obasi, Abba Makama, and Michael Omtoarefactors the film features three stories: "Love Potion" by Omonua, "YAM" by Makama, and "Suffer The Witch" by Obasi.
Juju Stories first premiered at the 2021 edition of the Locarno Film Festival. It won the Boccalino d'Oro award for best film. It is scheduled for theatrical release in 12 countries on 31 October 2021. The anthology also Screened at the tenth annual Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), Juju Stories continues the line of mystical films the trio have in their filmography.
After Nigeria’s first entry for International feature at Academy Awards Oscars was disqualified in 2019, the industry took a bold step to submit a non-English speaking film, “The Milkmaid”, a Nigerian drama film directed by Desmond Ovbiagele in 2021. The film was selected as Nigeria’s official entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. The selection of the Milkmaid was a big win for the Nollywood industry as it ascertains that the industry is now making globally acceptable film projects worthy of nominations but it was not nominated for the final stages.
The project, which is set in rural sub-Saharan Africa, follows the story of Aisha, a Fulani milkmaid who is searching for her younger sister, Zainab. Her dire personal circumstances force her to approach the religious militants who were responsible for their separation in the first instance, but she is determined to find her despite the compromises she must make to do so. However, her quest to recapture her blithe past proves to be unexpectedly complicated in a world whose festering conflict provides several paths to becoming a victim with typically irreversible consequences.
The film was released across the nation in limited cinemas across the country in November 2020. But its impact on African television became global in 2021 after it was announced as Nigeria’s official selection to the Academy.
The Fisherman’s Diary
The Fisherman's Diary is a Cameroonian film directed by Enah Johnscott, is the central Africa official entry for best international feature at the 93rd Oscars Academy Award in 2021, but unfortunately didn't make the final nomination selection alongside Nigeria's Film 'The Milk Maid'.
The film tells the story of a young girl determined to defy her village’s archaic views on women’s education as she aspires to attend her local school. A 12-year old girl, Ekah (Faith Fidel), is inspired by the story of the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Winner – Malala Yousafzai. Her burning drive and determination to break this adage get her embroiled with her father’s - Solomon’s (Kang Quintus) experience with girl child education.
Inspired by actual events, the film became the first Cameroonian film to be acquired by Netflix for its global audience and it predominantly had its dialogue in pidgin English, showcasing pidgin as a diverse language spoken in different parts of the continent.