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Netflix puts African content on top

Lead actor Pearl Thusi at the premiere of Netflix original series Queen Sono at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Lead actor Pearl Thusi at the premiere of Netflix original series Queen Sono at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 28, 2020

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Made in Africa, seen by the world is the new narrative at Netflix.

“We want to make your favourite show and your favourite film. We have been doing that around the world and we want to do that in Africa as well. We tell great stories in entertainment capitals around the world,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix. 

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 Joburg Theatre hosted the world premiere of Netflix’s first original South African series Queen Sono starring Pearl Thusi. 

Actress Enhle Mbali Mlotshwa at the premiere of Netflix Original Series Queen Sono at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein.Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Sarandos said they were well aware of the challenges of data in the region. 

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“Our first launch of international, eight years ago, was in Latin America and we intentionally did that so we could cut our teeth into hard places. In the variety of countries around North America that have from very fast broadband to developing wifi and broadband markets, we are getting better and better at it.”  

He added that in countries that were still developing, people often adapted their behaviour so that when they have wifi they do a lot of things quickly like downloading shows to watch offline.

Actress Chi Mhende at the premiere for the Netflix Queen Sono at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

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Dorothy Ghettuba, manager of International Originals in Africa, said they were always looking for exciting African stories.

“People sometimes ask if there is something specific we are looking for. We are passionate about creatives who are passionate about the stories they are telling. We want stories that people can watch and see themselves. We have for the longest while had stories told from the outside in and now we get the opportunity, for African creatives, to tell their stories inside out.”

This year Netflix will be producing 130 seasons of local language series around the world.

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“We have found of all those, the more authentically local the show is the more it is likely to travel. Authenticity is accessible. We get to see how similar we all are and how similar the stories are when you get down to the human experience,” said Sarandos. 

Actor Sechaba Morojele at the premiere of Netflix original series Queen Sono at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

As the point person in Africa, Ghettuba’s role is to find the creatives.

“I work with them to tell the stories. It’s all about them, they have the creative freedom to find the  best actors and actresses. We really want African representation in the shows. Like Queen Sono, it has an all African cast and crew and writers, filmed in 37 locations across Africa. We encourage that we want local by local and the world can also watch it. 

She added that approaching Netflix with an idea was as easy as sending them an idea on email or connecting at a networking session or festival. 

Sarandos said for 2020 the streaming company was being ambitious by taking on four original projects. 

“You will see the scope and scale of the projects. With investments we walk before we run. What makes Africa unique is a great storytelling culture with great production infrastructure and great writers and creatives already who have been telling stories to local audiences. We are just trying to give them a larger platform to tell their stories on a grander scale. The financial investment in that rolls up to what we said about wanting the stories to be local and relevant and they become global and when they are global they can afford more investment. What we have found everywhere we have worked is that the area is ripe for investment. We aren’t planting the seed, we are just coming to the party.”

Actress Connie Chiume at the premiere of Netflix Queen Sono at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

About five years ago, Netflix did their first local original show in Mexico Club de Cuervos, and  today there are about 50 original shows in the country.

“That’s series, film, documentaries, comedies, it expands to unscripted and scripted programming as well.” 

In addition to Queen Sono, two other African Originals launching this year include Blood & Water and Mama K’s Team 4. Earlier this week Netflix announced that it will increase its investment in Nigeria’s creative community with the production of its first African original scripted series from Nigeria, a six-part series directed by Akin Omotoso. 

Queen Sono was created by comedian and creative Kagiso Lediga and features South African talent including Vuyo Dabula, Chi Mhende, Khathu Ramabulana, James Ngcobo and Loyiso Madinga.

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