Reimagining African fables with Netflix & UNESCO short-films

Nubian queen
4 min read
12 November, 2021
Netflix and UNESCO have set a film competition for Sub-Saharan African filmmakers to reimagine African folklore. The initiative, part of the African Union's 'Aspiration 5' project, hopes to inspire the next generation of African creatives.

Following the success of its first Nigerian original movie Lionheart in 2018, Netflix has unveiled several African projects – including Queen Sono (its first African original series), Blood and Water, and King of Boys II (which won a well-deserved endorsement from the UK parliament).

These series and movies, and others like them, continue to win the hearts of their audience in the continent and internationally, and with new books-to-film adaptation planned for the nearest future, Netflix Africa has no plans to slow down.

Recently, Netflix partnered with UNESCO to pioneer an exciting film-making competition in sub-Saharan Africa – another obvious sign of its desire to continue expanding its influence in the continent’s film industries. The competition themed African Folktales, Reimagined, will see six winners awarded a $75,000 production budget, each, to create short films.

"The theme of the competition, African Folktales, Reimagined is inspired by ‘Aspiration 5’  a 2063 Agenda of the African Union that aims to celebrate cultural identities, common heritage, values, and ethics across the continent"

Leading industry professionals will mentor each winner, and their films will be shot by local production companies, with the supervision of Netflix. Asides from the $75,000 production budget, each winner will also receive a sum of $25,000, and the six films will be available in 2022 as an Anthology of African folktales on the giant streaming platform. 

Both UNESCO and Netflix identify strongly with the need and importance of endorsing diverse African narratives and bringing them to a global audience.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, believes that for African creators to contribute to the global discourse on peace, culture and development, the film sector has to facilitate the emergence of the rich and diverse cultural expressions and ideas that the continent has to offer.

The success of Nigerian films like "Lionheart" has once again put a global spotlight on the creativity and voice of African film [Getty Images[
The success of Nigerian films like 'Lionheart' has once again put a global spotlight on the creativity and voice of African film [Getty]

The organisation also hopes that this partnership with Netflix will contribute to its 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (targets set by the United Nations to end all forms of global poverty by 2030) by creating new sustainable employment that will facilitate economic growth across the continent.

It is unclear how the competition will lead to “sustainable employments” but the fact that Netflix plans to work with local production companies after the winners are selected may mean that more well-paying jobs will be available in film sectors across the continent – along with Netflix’s declaration to ensure that through their guidance, everyone involved in the productions of the six final films will be fairly compensated.  

The theme of the competition, African Folktales, Reimagined is inspired by ‘Aspiration 5’ – a 2063 Agenda of the African Union that aims to celebrate cultural identities, common heritage, values, and ethics across the continent. So, through exciting retellings of some of Africa’s most-loved folktales, the organisers aim to marry African traditions with a modern outlook, as well as share the astounding results with the world through Netflix.

"African Folktales, Reimagined is an interesting initiative that promises to discover and bring fresh, exciting African filmmakers to the world stage. This competition may also facilitate life-long connections between different African film industries"

Ben Amadasun, the Director of Content for Netflix in Africa, recognises the potential of this project to the film sector in the continent and globally. “Africa has a rich storytelling heritage and a wealth of folktales that have been passed down for generations. When you marry these very local stories with Africa’s emerging talent, there is no limit to fresh new stories to connect people with African cultures and bring the world closer to each other,” Amadasun said in the competition’s press release.

Applications for this competition opened on October 14  and submissions will close on November 14.

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A workshop will arm the finalists with the skills they will need to pitch their final entries to the Netflix and UNESCO judging committee in February. Afterwards, the six winners will be selected, and the production of the six films will commence in spring/summer. By October 2022, the world will be invited to reimagine African folklores through the Anthology of African Folktales, which will be available on Netflix. 

African Folktales, Reimagined is an interesting initiative that promises to discover and bring fresh, exciting African filmmakers to the world stage.

This competition may also facilitate life-long connections between different African film industries. These connections are vital because the continent needs more big collaborative projects, beyond the Nigerian, Ghanaian and South African movie industries.

Although the long-lasting effects of bringing diverse African storytelling to the world is undeniable, that this competition may succeed in building more bridges between different African countries and cultures is a much-needed advantage. 

Aisha Yusuff is a book reviewer with a focus on African and Muslim literature. Her work can be found on @thatothernigeriangirl as well as in digital magazines like Rewrite London.

Follow her on Twitter: @allthingsaeesha