African film industry's growth can be directly linked to the continent's decolonization era. The African movie industry did not transmit an accurate reflection of the traditions it meant to represent, given its previous existence under foreign rule. Rather, prejudices permeated the film industry, and for Western films, Africa was used simply as an “exotic” backdrop.
Nevertheless, throughout the 1960s, after various African countries gained their independence, the situation changed significantly. This is particularly true for the earlier French colonies whose filmmakers received financial and technical assistance from the French Ministry of Cooperation. Championed by leaders like those of Francois Mitterrand, attempts were further intensified in the 1980s to encourage the inclusion of African film production as part of the continent's artistic, political and economic growth.
Furthermore, since the overwhelming majority of movies produced before the country's decolonization was overtly racist, many post-independence African stars, like Oumarou Ganda and Ousmane Sembene, used the craft of cinema as a political tool to accurately reclaim their identity that was misrepresented by Westerners. African cinema has thus come to reflect political and social issues and also the neo-colonial situation.
Africa, though, is a large continent and its countries and cultures have their own particular cultural, governmental and geographical histories and features that are reflected in their films in a myriad of ways.
African cinema is a reflection of a rich cultural identity. It is the quest for a particular style of its own and a way of overcoming external influences. Moreover, African cinema performs an economic and social role, having an impact on society's domestic sphere (as regards culture, education, and economic growth/investment). And African cinema has a highly artistic film-specific uniqueness that offers a new rhythm to world cinema.
It is important to look at a couple of examples to highlight the rich diversity in the African film industry.
For starters, in the latter years of the 1990s, South Africa positioned itself as Africa's financial and technical "superpower" (Bringing Apartheid rule to an end), having survived previous constraints on global exposure and development. Additionally, Tsotsi, a South African release, became the number one African film to receive an Academy Award for a Foreign Language Film.
Nigeria is another African country with a rapidly expanding foreign cinema industry. The growth of 'Nollywood' includes the creation of more than 1000 movies per year, with many being low-budget productions. This is supported by the fact that a Nollywood film's estimated cost is around $25,000 to $70,000, while a Hollywood film's average cost is $250mn. Also, these films are more centered on the lower classes and disadvantaged cultures than on the international audience. For the African cinema industry, which experiences efforts to gain greater independence from foreign financial support, this booming industry holds a lot of hope. The Nigerian movie industry undeniably diversifies the economy by providing jobs in a nation predominantly dependent on oil and farming. The industry is considered to be the African continent most influential. Nollywood's estimated average revenue is pegged at $590mn.
Egypt's cinema is among the Arabic-speaking cinema industry and is featured yearly in the International Film Festival in Cairo. Over 4,000 productions have now been made in Egypt since 1896, comprising three-quarters of the total production of Arab films. Egypt is one of the Middle East's largest film producers.
Each nation is following a different pace of its plan to develop its film industry on the world stage. There are just a few instances mentioned above that highlight the significantly increased initiatives of the continental film industry's growth.
To African filmmaking, advances over the past 10 to 20 years have produced a mixture of hopes, anticipations, achievements, and continuing obstacles and disappointments with almost the same set of challenges and difficulties that filmmakers across the continent have always encountered.
For years, African producers have failed to show their viewpoints to audiences, mostly due to poor funding, lack of marketing outlets and lack of audiences in the continent's cinemas. Very seldom do African films reach an exotically curious reputation and are only available to a limited audience. Such films are never scheduled for frequent screenings, whether on TV or in small cinemas, even though they win prizes at festivals around the globe.
And, while film festivals around the world have responded positively to African cinema's popularity by screening African films, Africans in African countries cannot fully access these films. The marginalization of African audiences persists even with the presence of African film festivals and the new trend of video-on-demand sites. On the African continent, there are no adequate delivery systems in existence. African films are hardly shown in the few cinemas on the globe. Most of the video shops rent non-African films but this doesn't seem to bother the African consumers. They always visit these video shops and provide more income for the shop owners though there are no African movies available.
And local initiatives aimed at changing this narrative are confronted with a lack of financial aid, similar to filmmakers' situation. Sadly, though, African filmmakers and their distributors still tend to put more focus on American and European audiences and festivals than helping local screening programs, film festivals, and valuing on-continent shows over screenings and distribution deals in far-off regions. The justification may be financially motivated, but sometimes the main concern does not seem to be the African audiences.
There is no question that the African movie industry understands the need to establish its way of producing films, support local projects, and participate actively in cinematic traditions such as festivals. Even though the African movie industry currently does not enjoy the same degree of success reported by the more reputable American and European industries, it showed significant progress and development in the early twenty-first century, a trend partially mirrored by the formation of an African Cinema Journal and African TV channels.
These media serve as platforms for raising awareness and fostering film distribution, helping the African cinema industry to draw significant international community attention. In several African countries, the media and entertainment sectors are recording above-average growth and are projected to grow around 5% GDP per capita by 2015. Some countries like Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya are offering great prospects for content producers and distribution platforms for film, TV, digital media, internet, and other entertainment formats. Urbanization, youthful millennials, and the rising and evolving middle class are the engines of the industry's performance and are more likely to add to the industry's accelerated future growth.
Perhaps one of the greatest assets in Africa is its highly diverse distribution of population, history, and community. Through encouraging creative minds to exploit this intellectual capital, an ever-growing film industry, driven through increased investment and the removal of censorship, will further improve an already thriving market. In turn, an expanding film industry transforms into a thriving labor market, supplying young talent with new opportunities and thus helping to counter the current global youth unemployment trend. Investments in Africa's cinema industry will thus benefit African countries in their search for the global objective of sustainable development in the long term.
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