For many years, the international discourse regarding the African continent has been limited to war, famine, political corruption, and civic unrest. While these issues represent very real circumstances in Africa, it has left the rest of the world unaware of the continents richness in culture, lifestyle, and opportunity. Today, with the development of digital media platforms, we are witnessing an explosion of rich media content from the continent, and a progressive shift in the overall African narrative. African influence in popular culture and media can be found everywhere, from the sampling of African beats by chart topping global artists, to the leading roles played by the African diaspora in the creative and performing arts.
The beauty and diversity of the African experience is becoming demystified through the introduction of new technology platforms that are staring to increase the exposure of African media content on a global scale. While momentum is gaining in particular sectors, it is through the diversity of African representation across all sectors, from traditional journalism to entertainment television, that will ultimately solidify Africa's place in the global narrative. There is a vast pool of untapped talent, unused content, and untold stories on the African continent that, when captured, will not only transform global perceptions of Africa, but ultimately add value and vibrancy to the global media industry.
In recognizing the need to bridge the gap between the limited talent pool and the growing number of opportunities in the media and entertainment industry, the African Technology Foundation (ATF) and the LIONS@FRICAInitiative, partnered with Relativity School, a division of Relativity Media, to launch a continent-wide educational program in film, media, and performing arts called Hollywood in Focus. Through this program, African media professionals are connected with leading U.S. entertainment professionals through mentorships, workshops and master classes that enhanced their industry skills and business prowess.
The inaugural Hollywood in Focus program selected 20 young media professionals from various sectors of the Nigerian entertainment industry. The participants were brought to Hollywood in July 2015, and they spent three (3) weeks completing a rigorous training and industry immersion program for media entrepreneurs. The program also included expert panels and Q&A sessions, hosted by entertainment industry veterans. The panelists offered career advice, shared their unique journeys, and described how they navigated their successes and failures in the industry. For many of the participants, the honesty and openness of the panelists affirmed some of their assumptions, and they easily traced the parallels between their own career journeys in the African entertainment industry, to those of the Hollywood industry veterans. "To hear their processes, and to hear how similar [their journey has been] to all I've been through, and what I'm dealing with right now, is just a confirmation that I'm well on my way," says Gideon Okeke, a participant in the program.
The 2015 Hollywood in Focus program kicked off a remarkable partnership between ATF and Relativity School. Later that year, the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF) screened five of the short films that were produced during the program. To celebrate this achievement, members of Relativity's LA based team traveled to Lagos, Nigeria to experience the festival, and that journey solidified their commitment to the initiative. Glenn Kalison, president of Relativity Education, said, "We want African films to gain international appeal and global recognition. The rich culture of the African continent and the stories therein are ripe for the telling. Relativity's commitment to fostering the next-generation of content creation is global."
A total of 67 African media entrepreneurs, actors and film makers made their way through the hallways of the Los Angeles Center Studios, home of Relativity Education since the program's inception. In February 2016, a film intensive program was held for a delegation of 15 media professionals from Kano, Nigeria. The #kannywoodmeetshollywood workshop curriculum covered a similarly broad range of creative and business disciplines, and exposed the Kannywood professionals to the latest Hollywood techniques and practices, giving them the foundational tools needed to further develop their local industries.
In June of 2016, a pan-African delegation of 12 media professionals from six different African countries participated in the Hollywood in Focus program. The participants visited world-renowned media properties including, but not limited to, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Sony Studios, Fox Studios and Warner Brothers Studios. They dialogued with leading industry executives that that taught them about music, film and television production, and they learned about the nuances of business and deal making in the entertainment industry from a Hollywood perspective. The participants also networked with African media professionals that currently work in Hollywood, including Damilare Sonoiki, writer on the hit ABC sitcom Blackish, and Nkechi Okoro Carroll, writer and co-executive producer of the hit series Rosewood. In the final week of the program, the participants produced individual monologues, paired dialogue scenes, and three short films. Overall, the workshop provided the program participants with the unique experience of working and learning in an active studio lot.
In order to provide value to the African participants,the Hollywood in Focus program emphasizes the power of media entrepreneurship. With the growing media and technology ecosystems on the continent, African media professionals must be up-to-date with current digital trends, and the technologies that enable them. The Hollywood in Focus program empowers participants with tools and resources, and allows African media entrepreneurs to apple global best practices in the creation and distribution of content.Participants also get to engage with leading equipment manufacturers in Hollywood, that have an interest in exporting to emerging markets, particularly Africa.
Key to the program's success is the diversity of the learning experiences during the program and the diversity of the participants themselves, from both a creative and demographic perspective. Through this lens of diversity and inclusion, ATF's Media & Entertainment initiative plays an active role in supporting the engagement of women in the media industry. About 50% of the 2015 workshop participants chosen from Nigeria were female. ATF always strives to maintain a gender balance when inviting guests and panelists to speak with the cohorts. Yvonne Orji, Chika Chukudebelu, Sope Ogunyemi, Tiffany Persons, and Nkechi Okoro Carroll, are some of the many notable female industry professionals that met with the participants in 2016. Promoting both racial and gender diversity in the entertainment industry remains a key component of ATF's programmatic objectives.
In recognizing the opportunity they have been afforded, the media entrepreneurs, while improving their individual professional capacities, recognize their responsibility to share the knowledge that they gained with others in order to allow African media to realize its global potential and appeal. "If people that we don't know can share this much information with us, and they can open themselves to us, then why can't we do that for the people that we know?", says Chioma Onyenwe, a 2015 participant.
Overall, this initiative highlights the necessity for and the power of collaboration. It is through strategic partnerships that these programs can be developed and executed. The programmatic impact on participants inspires further action and collaboration once they return to their own countries. As the Hollywood in Focus program continues to train African media entrepreneurs, it will ensure that this generation of media entrepreneurs are equipped with the skills and resources needed to fully operate across the entertainment and media value chain, allowing them to tell their stories from every platform, on a local and global scale.
About the Authors
Chisom Oraedu is a 2017 Media Fellow with the African Technology Foundation in Silicon Valley, California. As an entertainment and media enthusiast, she actively seeks our stories and encounters that highlight African ingenuity, and showcase the growth and development of the continent at large.