Representation matters, but what does that look like for a whole continent, in particular Africa, which is home to 54 countries and distinct cultures?
Nigeria alone is home to more than 250 ethnic groups and tribes, each with their own traditions and customs, and over 500 languages. It’s also the birthplace of “Nollywood,” one of the top three movie-producing locations in the world (along with India's Bollywood and the US's Hollywood). Yet, relatively few Nollywood films are widely distributed throughout the world.
In fact, Western cinema and Hollywood have a long history of misrepresenting the people and cultures of the African continent, often showcasing limited narratives that only focus on themes of suffering, war, and famine.
"In the United States and Europe, there is a single story of Africa. This story is negative. The single story is not lacking in complexity, but it presents Africa as a place of danger, darkness, violence, poverty, and hopelessness," writes Amy E. Harth in her thesis, Representations of Africa in the Western News Media: Reinforcing Myths and Stereotypes.
Furthermore, Hollywood has relegated Africans and their stories to the sidelines in films about Africa, using the continent as a backdrop for white characters' journeys of self-discovery or moral reckoning. Just think about it: Out of Africa (1985), Blood Diamond (2006), The Constant Gardener (2005). They all center on the white experience with African characters simply acting as extras.
Off the screen, African films have been underrepresented at international film awards ceremonies such as the Oscars. It remains a fact that in 90 years of the Academy Awards, just three films from Africa have ever won the category for Best International Film, according to Okay Africa.
Steve Ayorinde, a renowned Nigerian film critic argues that there are several factors that come into play as to why African films aren’t getting international accolades. These include lack of funding and insufficient collaboration or technical support from Western institutions.
Language, according to Ayorinde, also plays an important role in this conversation.
“European films, particularly those made in languages such as German, French, Spanish, or Italian, have, in a way, an advantage because they are already in international languages," says Ayorinde, who points out that those who will judge the films might already be familiar with those languages while this is not the case for African languages such as Kiswahili or Zulu. You might be thinking: then surely it's time to diversify the panels judging those films?
A 2021 report by UNESCO estimated that Africa’s film and audiovisual industries could be worth $20 billion and create 20 million jobs. Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney+ have both in recent years made investments in African filmmakers and local productions across the Africa continent via original series and films.
It’s about time that Africa, its diverse cultures, and people are fully represented on the big screen with African stories taking front and center stage and African talent behind the camera. Here are six TV shows and movies to watch that go beyond the “Africa=poverty” narrative that you need to watch.
1. Supa Team 4 (2023)
Step aside Marvel and DC Comics, there’s a new superhero squad in town. They go by Supa Team 4.
Bringing a new angle to the superhero genre centered on African stories and girl power, Malenga Mulendema created Netflix’s first African original animated seriesSupa Team 4in 2023.
The animated series is set in the neo-futuristic city of Lusaka, Zambia, and follows four teenage girls who become undercover superheroes after being recruited by a retired secret agent, Their latest assignment? Saving the world.
Showrunner Malenga Mulendema told CBS News: “In creating a superhero show set in Lusaka, I hope to introduce the world to four strong African girls who save the day in their own fun and crazy way. Most importantly, I want to illustrate that anyone from anywhere can be a superhero.”
As the success of the Black Panther franchise has already shown, superhero movies with strong Black female characters are powerful wins for equality and representation. Supa Team 4 is walking in its footsteps.
Watch now on Netflix.
2. African Folktales Reimagined (2023)
African Folktales Reimagined is a multilingual anthology series that centers traditional African folktale stories for a modern audience, created by Netflix in partnership with UNESCO. The series’ creative team hail from Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritania, and Uganda and have turned six traditional African stories into dark fantasy drama shorts that cover topics including domestic violence, love, grief, mysticism, suicide, and child marriage.
Folktales have been an integral part of African culture across the continent for years, passed down orally from generation to generation. These stories are used to teach lessons, communicate cultural values, and convey insights about life, according to Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project.
However, according to a BBC article, the art of traditional storytelling and the folktales are at risk of being lost across Africa. This makes shows like African Folktales Reimagined crucial not only for sharing these tales with a global audience but also for preserving this rich African tradition for future generations.
Watch African Folktales Reimagined on Netflix.
3. Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire (2023)
A whirlwind trip to 2050 where radioactive octopi are used by criminal gangs and a visit to a society where wannabe gods try to ascend by winning a talent show, are just two of the afrofuturistic tales from this African animated series on Disney+.Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire is a pan-African Disney+ original animated series. The 10-part anthology series is executively produced by Oscar-winning Peter Ramsey, Anthony Silverston of South African animation house Triggerfish, and producer Tendayi Nyeke.
The series presents a unique blend of African mythology, science fiction, and Afrofuturism, offering 10 distinct and brave visions of the future from an entirely African perspective.
“Kizazi Moto derives from the Swahili phrase ‘kizazi cha moto,’ which literally translates as ‘fire generation,’ capturing the passion, innovation, and excitement this new cohort of African filmmakers is ready to bring to the world,” Nyeke told Variety.
The series is showcasing a new generation of African filmmakers who are taking to the small screen. Fourteen up-and-coming directors are at the helm of the series, hailing from Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Egypt.
Watch Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire on Disney+
4. The Woman King (2022)
The Woman King tells the extraordinary story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s. These fierce women possessed incredible skills and unmatched bravery. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (played by Oscar winner Viola Davis) as she inspires the king (played by award-winning actor John Boyega) to take on the enemies determined to violate their honor and destroy their way of life.
The film features a nearly all-Black cast of women and actors from across the diaspora, from lead actor Viola Davis to Thuso Mbedu.
Shondaland points out that the film also challenges the “strong Black woman trope,” that depicts them as being self-sufficient and resilient at all times. The Woman King adds a layer of complexity to its characters by showing the women warriors as both fierce but also nuanced characters, who are vulnerable in their emotions; they feel happiness, sadness, fear — the humanity of the Black woman.
Moreover, the British Film Institution (BFI) describes the film as a powerful representation of an alternative and distinctive life path for women and girls. The women warriors depicted in the movie choose not to marry, and instead to spend their lives dedicated to protecting their kingdom. This is in comparison to past portrayals of African women within Western media, such as in Eddie Murphy’s 1988 romantic comedy Coming to America, which depicted African women as hypersexual, submissive, and lacking agency, compared to their male counterparts.
Watch The Woman King on Apple TV.
5. Neptune Frost (2021)
The British Film Institution (BFI) describesNeptune Frost as “a blend of Afrofuturistic and glitch aesthetics,” “anti-capitalist,” and “intoxicatingly original.”
The sci-fi musical, which was filmed entirely in Rwanda, is set in Burundi, in the aftermath of a war. We are introduced to Matalusa (played by actor Bertrand Ninteretse), a coltan miner who witnesses the killing of his younger brother by one of their bosses while they are both at work.
Meanwhile, Neptune (played by actor Elvis Ngabo and Rwandan actress Cheryl Isheja), who is intersex, is on the run following a sexual assault. Matalusa and Neptune meet via a glitch in another dimension on an e-waste site called Digitaria that is home to a collective of hackers leading a resistance movement. Through a series of musical numbers, we learn about the resistance and what exactly they are resisting.
Both Matalusa and Neptune are fleeing the systemic violence of “The Authority” and find in Digitaria a haven for those who dare to imagine political and technological possibilities beyond capitalism, beyond colonialism, and beyond binaries, according to AnOther Magazine.
The movie also presents a fresh take on economic inequality in the African mining region by highlighting the role of technology as both oppressor and liberator.
Watch Neptune Frost on Apple TV.
6. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
To understand Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, we need to go back to 2018 when director Ryan Coogler first brought to life Marvel's comic book and introduced us to the fictional African state of Wakanda in Black Panther.
The fictional Wakanda was portrayed as a technologically advanced nation located west of Lake Victoria, on territory that is occupied in the real world by Uganda, Rwanda, and northern Tanzania.
The movie was the first time the world saw an African superhero on the big screen within the Marvel cinematic universe, with a majority Black cast and a Black director, according to an article from Independent.
The move was a resounding success, receiving five Oscar nominations across all categories.
Picking up from the first film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens with the Wakanda kingdom in mourning after the death of King T’Challa, also known as Black Panther (played by the late actor Chadwick Boseman).
As time passes, Queen Ramonda (played by award-winning actor Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and the Dora Milaje fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers.
For years, the leaders of Wakanda have kept their homeland and resources, in particular their possession of vibranium safe from the outside world. However, this secret was exposed in the first film, and now outside forces including the mysterious underwater Mesoamerica-inspired kingdom known as Talocan present an unsure threat.
Writer Katie Harmon described the role the Black Panther franchise played in showcasing a different view of Africa that hasn’t been displayed in traditional media, stating: “The Black Panther movies show an Africa that is not traditionally represented in media: one rich with resources and an effective governing structure. While some viewers may have perceived this as being a portrayal of a fictional African country, many viewers recognized that several aspects of Wakanda are representative of modern day African politics, economics, cultures, and societies, different from past understandings."
Watch Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on Disney+.
The Move Afrika: Rwanda campaign aims to promote stronger health systems as a pathway to promoting equity. We’re also calling on world leaders to defend our planet and its inhabitants, and to create jobs and economic opportunity. Make sure you take action to earn tickets or you can purchase them to join us at the BK Arena in Kigali for a one-of-a-kind experience. Everything you need to know about the event is right here.