Let the credits roll on Africa’s greatest opportunity for growth

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Rafiq Samsodien

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: On Monday, 29 January 2018, the world of film changed forever with the release of Black Panther, which played its part in making the inevitable happen. Hollywood will never be the same again. And neither will film on our continent.

The global box-office blockbuster that Black Panther became within just the next 30 days is almost as unreal as the idea of a black superhero emanating from Africa. In week five of its release, the South African box-office record of R101 million ($8.5 million) was eclipsed, out of a global $1.4 billion in revenue.

We remain a small, yet vital support actor. But the planet has a new script and Africa is the source for a plethora of storylines.

Ironically, the film industry of South Africa, despite its 123-year history, still finds itself in a malady of fractured inefficiency where a tiny few rule the flow of capital, the means of production and the resultant imagery of reality. This is a reflection of the broader South African context whether in culture or commerce.

But the Black Panther phenomenon heralds an African dawn of both hope and black excellence, and the real chance for South Africa to lose its historical shackles in the form of the current industry leadership over the next decade.

What is needed to reverse our falling share price is an approach that asks: “What box?”. What is needed is an approach that transcends the so-called box entirely. The responsibility rests with black people in the film industry to rise to the occasion of a new horizon across the pond, far beyond the existing, ego-battling turf. The time for such courageous hearts and minds is now.

In a reimagined entertainment and media value-chain the god-like warrior that is Shaka Zulu resonates across ages alongside the unorthodox golfing genius that is Papwa Sewgolum, in the South African pantheon of greats. By taking control of these narratives we are able to rewrite the social and economic injustices of the past through the stories that were never told through our lens. By controlling the narratives and telling our own stories, we are celebrating the African story and immortalising our own ‘Black Panthers’. In this way, we can draw a parallel between the ‘Black Panther’ and these icons. They are our superheroes, our living legends, so let us tell that story.

Transformation, skills development and sustainable job creation are the key drivers of South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030 (NDP2030) and are the local benchmarks for ensuring a globally competitive country in the global space. In the spirit of this vision for 2030, our traditional competence as the service provider to the developed world’s film needs a complete reinvention to reposition our value proposition. The South African film industry must realise its true potential to that of a fully integrated 360 degree participant in the global space – from story to script to film.

Thanks to the Black Panther phenomenon, there is a new narrative unlocking new markets and creating opportunities for everyone to benefit from, empowering the youth and building verticals to drive growth to a real film economy. There is an urgent need for us to focus on the size of the South African share of the global film economy and where we should be over the next five years.

According to the 2017 industry report by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), the South African film industry generates R12 billion. With a re-imagined industry the projections are that this could be quadrupled in revenue value.

The disparity between the emerging and established filmmaker remains unresolved, which has always left a huge gap for growth in the middle. But very little has been done to bridge this divide and many generally choose to sit back and wait for someone to champion the cause. A few gallantly take up the challenge. But the perception of policy and provincial borders is the general argument for the barriers for this exponential growth to succeed. With a cautious and conservative approach over time, we will lose even more momentum while other markets are more bullish in their approach.

The time for change is now. We need to adopt a more collaborative spirit to drive opportunities into realities so that big and small operators can all thrive. Our advantage is market access to 1.2 billion people on the continent. The Cape Town International Film Market and Festival is a validation of our commitment to ensuring we build an excellent platform for people to develop the necessary skills and knowledge capital to work and thrive across borders.

This event focuses on the critical value chain of the film industry; the drivers who provide an invaluable transport service to visiting and local talent and crews, the carpenters, set builders and painters, some of the world’s most experienced technical crew, and even the local clothing industry, with more than 200 000 textile workers who can produce awe-inspiring costumes to scale. Then there is the incredible talent in our midst – filmmakers, actors, scriptwriters – an untapped source of home-grown talent ready to be discovered.

We currently find ourselves in a time and place that is plagued with cultural ignorance, intolerance and high rates of unemployment. Big business and the government are scrambling for solutions when the spotlight has been shining on it for years.

Let Africans write the scripts that will tell stories that will challenge these intolerances and also create thousands of jobs – one pixel at a time.

Written by Rafiq Samsodien, executive chairman, Cape Town International Film Market & Festival

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