2019 Highlights from the African Film and Television Industry

Mati Diop receives the Grand Prix award at Cannes 2019. (Photo credit Stephane Mahe for Reuters)


As we wrap up 2019, it’s always worthwhile to reflect back on the year and celebrate some of the highlights and successes from within the African film and TV sectors. We often forget to acknowledge the successes of our colleagues and 2019 was a bumper year, with many talented people worthy of recognition.

In no particular order, here are only some of the notable highlights and successes that have taken place over the past year.

Joel Karekezi: Mercy of the Jungle

Rwandan filmmaker Joel Karekezi has had an amazing year with his film, Mercy of the Jungle, which has won a number of top awards. Most recently the film picked up four awards from its eight nominations at the African Movie Awards, for Best Film, Best Lead Actor, Best Costume Design and Best Make Up. Earlier in the year, the film took home the top prize at FESPACO, followed by wins at The Rwanda Film Festival (Best Feature), the Audience Award at Afrika Film Festival Köln in Cologne, The Grand Prize Ecran d’Or in Cameroon and the The Youth Jury Prize at the F5C 5 Continents 2019 Film Festival.

This powerful film about the Rwandan genocide also screened at the Seattle International Film Festival and the New York African Film Festival, and has also been picked up Canal+.

This massive haul of awards is the recognition of many years of hard work from this amazing filmmaker.

Wanuri Kahiu: Rafiki

The courage it took director Wanuri Kahiu not only to make this film, but also challenge the powers that be to enable its screening in Kenya, should not be overlooked. The intolerance around homosexuality and LGBTQ issues in East Africa is only growing, with Uganda once again looking to install the death penalty for homosexuals.

Apart from being a beautiful film, Rafiki was a brave statement from an African woman who is not afraid to embrace difficult topics and yet still do so in a sensitive and moving manner. The film has been recognised across Africa and around the world with screenings at over 120 festivals in more than 20 countries. The film has won numerous awards and secured positive reviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and a host of other international publications.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the film gave a voice to many in Kenya and East Africa who have felt marginalised and victimised. It has brought into the mainstream conversation that which was considered taboo. While much of this drama played out late in 2018, the film’s impact has still been immense in 2019, as it was the first Kenyan film to screen at Cannes.

Mati Diop: Atlantics

It may seem hard to believe, but 2019 was the first time a black woman director has ever featured in the Cannes Film Festival’s main competition. French-Senagalise director Mati Diop went on to win the Grand Prix for Atlantics, which is also Senegal’s official entry for the Academy Awards.

The breaking down of the barriers of “firsts” for Africans, and especially for African women, is important, especially since it reminds us all of just how un-inclusive many of these so-called “international” film events actually are. The film was Diop’s first stint as a feature director and has also been screened at The Toronto International Film Festival, The BFI in London and at the New York Film Festival. Netflix has also scooped up the international rights to the film.

2019 African Oscar Submissions

This year sees the highest number of African entries to the Academy Awards than ever before, with 10 films up for awards (the previous record was eight).

For the first time Nigeria and Ghana have submitted films and are part of the following list of submissions:

  • Algeria: Papicha, Mounia Meddour, director
  • Egypt: Poisonous Roses, Ahmed Fawzi Saleh, director
  • Ethiopia: Running Against the Wind, Jan Philipp Weyl, director
  • Ghana: Azali, Kwabena Gyansah, director
  • Kenya: Subira, Ravneet Singh Chadha, director
  • Morocco: Adam, Maryam Touzani, director
  • Nigeria: Lionheart, Genevieve Nnaji, director
  • Senegal: Atlantics, Mati Diop, director
  • South Africa: Knuckle City, Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, director
  • Tunisia: Dear Son, Mohamed Ben Attia, director

The last time a film from an African country was nominated for an Oscar was Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu, which was Mauritania’s submission for the 87th Academy Awards in 2014. Meanwhile, the last time an African film won was in 2006, with Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi from South Africa.

While many believe that Mati Diop’s Atlantics has a strong chance this year, there is stiff competition with a total of 92 countries submitting films.

Uzalo reaches over 10 million viewers

While South Africa’s South African Broadcasting Company (SABC) stumbles from one crisis to another, there has been a spark of hope with the massive success of the soapie Uzalo. Having breached the 10 million viewers mark and consistently remaining there, the show broke through the 10.2 million viewers mark in October.

The previous South African viewing record was on 11 June 2010 for the opening match of the FIFA World Cup between South Africa and Mexico – and that was aired across both SABC 1 and SuperSport.

The show is produced by Stained Glass Productions, and even though the SABC has struggled to pay the team, and production was briefly shut down, it has managed to become a phenomenal success within the South African TV space.

African festivals sign 50/50 by 2020

The 5050×2020 gender equality charter was launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and has been signed by many major film festivals across the globe.

Most recently, The Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) has become the first Arab film festival, and the second African festival, to sign the pledge. The first African festival to sign was the Durban International Film Festival in July this year.

Some other 60 international film festivals have already signed the charter. These include: Berlin, Locarno, Venice, Toronto, San Sebastian, London, Sarajevo, Los Angeles, Rome and New York, as well as the Annecy animation and Clermont-Ferrand shorts festivals.