Editor’s note: Former IndieWire staffer and Shadow and Act founder Tambay Obenson is launching Akoroko, a new platform devoted to African film and television; we’re happy to give him our platform to make his case.
For a century, “cinema” has been most often used in reference to an industry that almost entirely excludes the African experience. I want to change that with Akoroko, a new platform that will bridge African film and television industries with the West with consistent, robust, and candid coverage that’s local yet globally accessible. It will include criticism, analysis, consultation, cataloging, curated film streaming, and education.
An October 2021 UNESCO report noted that the African film industry generates $5 billion in annual revenue, with the potential for $20 billion. Global appetite for African film and television programming is unknown because the industry continues to be “structurally underfunded, underdeveloped, and undervalued.”
Meanwhile, on the continent with the world’s youngest population, a new generation of African filmmakers is emerging. They are enjoying the same benefits North America did two decades ago: new technologies, the affordability of digital film equipment, and the accessibility of online platforms.
Supporting their efforts are initiatives like the Realness African Screenwriters Residency, the Locarno Film Festival’s Industry Academy workshop, and a partnership between USC School of Cinematic Arts and Netflix. (This summer, Netflix released its first Kenyan series, “Country Queen.”) Google is making a $1 billion investment in Africa over five years.
International media giants like Netflix, Amazon, and Disney are beginning to realize the continent’s untapped potential, even if only in a bid to find growth opportunities. Efforts by companies like Google and Facebook to widen broadband internet access will boost Africa’s growth in film and television and the demand for content — especially locally created — will only increase.
Akoroko aims to become a trusted source for film and television industries on the African continent, elevating public discourse around the African moving image and fostering the same kind of rabid, cineastic appreciation that underpins North American, European, and Asian cinema.
Throughout my career covering global Black cinema, I’ve always aimed to effect change, shift conversations, and inspire action. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa, and grew up in three countries and two continents. I still have one foot in North America and the other in Africa.
In 2007 I launched The Obenson Report, where I spoke with up-and-coming Black filmmakers like future Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins. Then I co-founded Shadow and Act in 2009, a site that introduced readers to global Black talent and new Black films and insisted on global Black cinema as cinema, not as a niche. We were unapologetic and relentless, serving as a bridge between the independent Black filmmaking community and the mainstream.
During that period, I also executive produced several films by Black filmmakers, including the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning short film “Black Swan Theory” directed by Nikyatu Jusu.
From 2010 to 2018, I was a curator and co-founder at the New Voices in Black Cinema Film Festival. Held annually at BAMCinematek in Brooklyn, the festival hosted the New York premieres for Nijla Mumin’s feature debut “Jinn” and screened works by filmmakers and actors early in their careers, including Ava DuVernay’s “I Will Follow,” Oscar winner Matthew Cherry’s “Nine Rides,” John Boyega’s “Imperial Dreams”; Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Chinonye Chuckwu’s feature debut “AlaskaLand,” and the late Chadwick Boseman’s second feature “The Kill Hole.”
I joined the IndieWire staff in late 2018, where I continued to write about Black cinema from a global perspective. It was a platform with reach and influence and it allowed me to enter spaces I previously could not. It was also an education on how to efficiently run an online publication.
I’ve been invited to speak at colleges and universities, including Yale and The New School, moderate and participate in numerous panel discussions at film festivals and screening series, and mentor young film professionals.
All those experiences, as well as the many industry relationships I’ve developed over the years, have prepared me for this moment. Akoroko is well positioned to make immediate impact with the ongoing ideological shift regarding African cinema.
Crucial to meeting its short-term goals is a fundraising effort to raise approximately $75,000 to $150,000, allowing for the accelerated expansion of Akoroko’s critiques, analysis, cataloging, and consultation.
So far, Akoroko has been almost an entirely one-man operation. For the platform to be successful, I need help. One key lesson I learned from my years running Shadow and Act is that I can’t do this alone, and I’m humble enough to know where my strengths and weaknesses lie.
The funds raised will serve to cover operating costs over five to six months, in order to best position Akoroko to seek seed funding that will carry it forward.
Africa as a region is overflowing with creativity, and its untapped filmmaking landscape is one of the richest and most diverse areas in the world. It has the potential to disrupt stereotypes and economies, while cementing identity within communities.
This environment is Akoroko’s entry point. Please join us at www.gofundme.com/f/akoroko-african-cinema.
Tambay Obenson, formerly an IndieWire staff writer and founder of Shadow and Act, is now the founder of Akoroko.