‘We Want to Explore Ambitious Stories from Genres Rarely Present in African Cinema’
Netflix Director of Content for Africa, Ben Amadasun tells VANESSA OBIOHA in an interview the streamer’s commitment to spotlighting the various talents in the creative industry to a global audience while building a home for the best-in-class African stori
There was a lot of fanfare last year when Netflix announced plans to make Nigeria originals before the pandemic struck hard. What has and hasn’t changed since then? Nothing has changed. Sure the pandemic did have an impact on film production on a global scale, but we at Netflix are still committed to the Nigerian film industry. We recognise that being part of the local creative community in Nigeria/Africa also comes with responsibilities, in particular the need to develop the talent pipeline and give new voices the chance to be heard. We will continue to develop and work with the industry on initiatives such as the postproduction workshops, Realness Institute partnership for new scriptwriters.
Using Nigeria as an example, how has diversity helped the Netflix brand?
When we talk about diversity, it’s not just one thing. It also extends to a diversity of perspectives and ideas. One of the things we’re really proud of and excited about is that we have the opportunity to work with creators from all backgrounds and cultures, regardless of language, gender, race, or country of origin, and we get to share our platform with them so they can share their stories with the world.
In Nigeria, we have built strong partnerships with a cross-section of content creators and distributors to broaden storytelling and bring joy to our members on the service. Our focus is to build the home for the best-in-class African stories, in every genre and this can only be done if we continue to grow the variety, diversity, and quality of the content offering from Nigeria.
Diverse in its people as it is in its culture, Nigeria is home to a plethora of stories, histories, and heritage, that should be celebrated and enjoyed by anyone, anywhere. Netflix always has and always will celebrate the diversity that makes storytelling so powerful. Nigeria is one of our key focus markets for Netflix and we are betting big on Nigerian creatives.
Generally, how are Nigerian films fairing on the platform?
At the end of last year, we shared that 2020 showed that the world has an appetite for Nigerian content with titles made in Nigeria making to Top 10 lists in many countries around the world. The ‘most travelled’ Nigerian titles of 2020 include: ‘Òlòt ré’, ‘The Royal Hibiscus Hotel’, ‘Sugar Rush’, ‘Merry Men 2: Another Mission’, ‘It’s Her Day’, ‘Citation’, ‘The Mirror Boy, Last Flight to Abuja’, ‘The Set Up’ and ‘The Delivery Boy’. While we won’t mention any specifics or data points, what we can say is that Nollywood and Nigerian content is being enjoyed not only by Nigerian viewers but also viewers from across the world.
Netflix to a very large extent was a lifesaver for storytellers last year. Would you say the pandemic in a way helped Nigerian storytellers and audiences embrace movie streaming?
We are grateful that we have a business that has provided people with connection, escape, and comfort during a difficult time. Nigerians watched more than triple the amount of their Netflix (in viewing hours) compared to 2019.
At the start of the year (pre-Covid lockdowns from Jan - Feb 2020), Nigerians spent most of their ‘TV Time’ watching titles across multiple genres.
However, from March to July, romance, kids, anime, reality, fantasy and thrillers had a surge in viewing hours, with drama, action, and comedy+stand up taking the top three spots of the most popular genres throughout the year.
In terms of storytellers, in the absence of theatres, streaming services like Netflix provided an avenue for filmmakers to showcase their work but also earn revenue. Globally, we’ve released about 30 films theatrically a year for the past few years - most day-and-date and some pre-released in theatres. Theatrical releases matter to some filmmakers, and they’re also a requirement for some festivals and awards.
What do you look out for when selecting Nigerian films for your vault?
We believe that great stories can come from anywhere and be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere and when it comes to selecting titles, we focus on best-in-class stories across genres that resonate strongly with our members. We believe that more people want and deserve to see their lives reflected on screen. We want to explore ambitious stories from genres rarely present in African cinema. It’s also incredibly important for us to make sure our slate or vault as you put it reflects our members’ diverse cultures and experiences, especially in the different African countries.
In what other ways are you establishing your presence here?
While there are no current plans to open an office in Nigeria or anywhere in Africa, we’re always looking at ways to be visible, present, and connected to the local creative industry. This ranges from a variety of ways from local industry event participation by our executives, the local partners we work with, the local business we partner, the people we work with across the value chain as we work to increase our investment in the country and its creative industry.
Last year, Netflix took a liking to the siblings’ creatives, Ikorodu Bois. What other amazing talents have you found in the country?
Nigerians are talented and creative people and Netflix sees the potential of African stories and storytellers and we want to help put the spotlight on talented local and regional filmmakers and bring their work to a global audience. As for new talents, earlier in June, we launched the development lab in partnership with Realness institute a nonprofit organization to upskill 12 creative industry professionals from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Mozambique, to be part of the inaugural three-month development lab for African Writers.
Two Nigerians were selected for the Episodic Lab where they will develop their story concepts with help from expert Story Consultants and Creative Producers. The selected participants from Nigeria Include; Ayoade Adeyanju and Kehinde Joseph. Along with creative training, these writers will receive feedback from the Netflix team and at the end of the lab, each writer will have an opportunity to pitch their incubated concept to Netflix to have their series further developed for production.
As part of the Development Lab, six participants were also selected for the Development Executive Traineeship (DET) to fully immerse themselves in the story development process, The talent from Nigeria Includes Ololade Okedare who will also have a chance to create potential Netflix African Original Series, because whether in Africa or beyond, we believe that great stories can come from anywhere.