Media mogul Mo Abudu and award-winning actor Idris Elba have announced they are joining forces to empower and uplift talent from Africa and the Diaspora through their production companies, EbonyLife Media and Green Door Pictures. The partnership aims to increase authentic representation in global film and TV projects.
Forbes named Mo Abudu one of the Most Powerful Women, and the Hollywood Reporter listed her as one of the Top 20 Most Powerful Women in Global Entertainment. Her production company, EbonyLife, was responsible for three of the five highest-grossing Nigerian films ever (Chief Daddy, The Wedding Party and its sequel). Headed and founded by Abudu, the media conglomerate EbonyLife Media is comprised of EbonyLife TV, Ebonylife Film and EbonyLife Studios.
Idris Elba is an award-winning actor, producer and director. For his role in the psychological crime thriller Luther, Elba won a Golden Globe and was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards. He was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2018 and Essence’s Sexiest Man of the Year in 2013. After noticing that he didn’t see the world he grew up in on TV, Elba started Green Door Pictures to bring more diverse storytelling to the world audience.
Through their collaboration, the duo aims to increase representation in global film and TV projects. “It’s really important for us as Africans to share our stories with the world. If you don’t know who I am, if you don’t know my history, if you don’t know that culture, how are you going to respect me or know anything about me?” Abudu asked during a panel discussion at the Forbes 30/50 Summit on International Women’s Day. “My stories are just as important as yours. And they must be told,” she added.
“I have always been passionate about using my platform to make a positive impact. By partnering with Mo, we aim to offer free, world-class industry education to the next generation of storytellers and bring their authentic voices to the forefront. This partnership is a step towards creating a more inclusive and diverse media landscape, one that represents the voices and experiences of Africa and its Diaspora around the world,” Elba said in a press release.
Nigeria’s commercial film industry, often called “Nollywood,” is one of the top three movie-producing locations (along with India’s Bollywood and America’s Hollywood). Yet relatively few of Nollywood’s films are widely distributed throughout the world.
As for the small screen, one 2018 study revealed that “Africa and Africans barely register on U.S. television.” The study showed that U.S. TV viewers were seven times more likely to see references to Europe than to Africa. Only 13% of entertainment storylines that mentioned Africa included an African character, and 80% of the roles were minor.
In major storylines about Africa on U.S. TV, the depictions of Africa tend to be negative, and viewers are twice as likely to see negative portrayals of Africa than positive ones. According to Moradewun Adejunmobi, a professor of African American and African Studies at the University of California, Davis, this is due to “a failure of imagination.” She says that Hollywood likes to portray Africa in a negative light with stories of tragedy and warfare.
According to Adejunmobi, Hollywood doesn’t recognize that Africa is “just a place where people are busy trying to live their lives in the way in which people are trying to live their lives in wealthy suburbs in the United States and poor urban centers in the United States. People are people.” Many dramatic conflicts, like those with a mother-in-law, can resonate with people in many cultures. She says a human story can be set anywhere, not just in the United States.
“I think it’s just very, very hard for executives in media distribution companies in the United States to think of Africa as a place where you can tell a regular story,” Adejunmobi adds. She qualifies that Netflix is a notable exception, offering a growing Nollywood and South African media library.
“Through their collaboration, Elba and Abudu aim to nurture a more inclusive and diverse media landscape, where stories from Africa and its Diaspora are given the same level of attention and respect as other cultures and communities,” according to a press release of the collaboration.
They aim to build capacity through large-scale global productions and increase education and mentoring opportunities to foster a new generation of creative professionals. EbonyLife Creative Academy is already educating up-and-coming filmmakers in Lagos, Nigeria, and they expect to expand throughout the continent. The new partnership will help support graduates of the program.
“We believe that Africa has the talent and the stories to captivate the world. It’s our mission to offer the best in industry education, mentorship and production opportunities so that our graduates can become valuable contributors to the global media landscape. We plan to hit the ground running and explore the very best that African and Black stories have to offer global audiences,” Abudu said in a press release.
“The time feels right now for this change to happen,” Abudu added.