In 2022, Netflix unveiled a curated collection of content titled “From the Cape to Cairo‘ which celebrates African stories and storytellers by showcasing Africa’s creativity in talent and storytelling. Launched in May to mark Africa Month, the comprehensive collection highlights outstanding content from across Africa’s regions, promoting unity across the continent and enabling millions to see their lives on screen. As Netflix continues to invest in promoting African culture, the collection will also expand with a variety of new African titles that showcase and celebrate the diversity of African storytelling on its platform.
What better way to tell authentic African stories while preserving the culture than reinterpreting folk tales? Folk tales are tales passed orally from generation to generation, embracing cultural heritage, moral teachings, and traditional values. In partnership with UNESCO, this genre inspired Netflix to launch a short film competition on the subject African fairy tales, reinterpreted Promoting African cultures by retelling folk tales for modern local and global audiences while supporting young talent in the industry.
Folk tales have always helped transmit African culture and heritage to future generations. With modernization and globalization, this narrative tradition is threatened with extinction. The Netflix and UNESCO initiative aimed to leverage this important tradition and encourage culture preservation while demonstrating a mutual commitment and belief in the importance of nurturing diverse local stories and bringing them out into the world to wear.
Six young filmmakers were selected as finalists from over 2,000 applications from 13 sub-Saharan countries. The six aspiring filmmakers from Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritania, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania were provided with resources including a $90,000 budget and creative guidance from established filmmaker mentors to bring their stories to life. Industry veterans such as Bongiwe Selane, Jenna Bass, Pape Boye, Femi Odugbemi, Leila Afua Djansi and Tosh Gitonga mentored the young filmmakers throughout the filming experience.
The African Folk Tale Competition was a step towards narrowing the gap between talent and funding by providing storytellers with a platform to showcase their content to a global audience via Netflix. The short films in the competition launched worldwide on Netflix on March 29 this year as part of An Anthology of African Folktales. The collection showcases a variety of African screen talents in stories by emerging African storytellers such as Mohamed Echkouna Enemy Djinn; Walt Mzengi Corey with catope; Korede Azeez with Zabin Halima (Halima’s choice); Voline Ogutu with Anyango and the ogre; Loukman Ali with Katera from Punishment Island, and Gcobisa Yako with MaMlambo.
The short films have reinterpreted traditional stories for a contemporary audience with diverse languages, authentic culture and rich folklore. Mohameds Enemy Djinn tells the story of an elderly woman who is forced to confront a malevolent spirit, an ancient jinn. Mohamed’s short film tells the story of Mauritania’s Arabic mythology of the Djinn, an invisible spirit believed to influence humanity. This theme of mysticism, a popular feature of folklore, is present in all short films. Like Mohammed’s jinn, MaMlambo in Gcobisa Yako’s short film of the same name is a river creature who watches over women with troubled lives who have attempted suicide in the river of no return. Gcobisas MaMlambo retells the story of the avenging goddess of rivers in South African Zulu mythology.
An interesting note about African folk tales is the universality of the stories. For Korede Azeez from Nigeria, her short film Zabin Halima is inspired by a fairy tale from southern Nigeria about a young girl whose parents wanted her to marry an old rich man against her will. Korede has carefully reimagined the fairy tale in a futuristic Fulani community (Northern Nigeria), albeit with a virtual world that uses the main character as a form of escapism.
Like the short films by Korede and Gcobisa, also by Voline Ogutu Anyango and the ogre examines the unfair societal expectations of marriage on women, but focuses on the violent abuse that can be inflicted when there is a major gap in the power dynamic. Voline’s short film chronicles a popular Kenyan folk tale, perfectly reimagined in a futuristic setting where three children and their mother seek solace in the tale to escape an abusive father and husband. The action in Loukman Alis Katera from Punishment Island follows a similar theme of abuse and abandonment. In his short film, Loukman also carefully captured the colonial experiences and realities of colonial Uganda, while also laying out the themes of the folk tale.
Walt Mzengi Corey’s short film is a Tanzanian fairy tale about a child of magical origin who embarks on a journey to help end the drought that is ravaging the community, risking his own life in the process. catope, The title character was sculpted from clay by her mother, who was trying to have a child ten years ago. Since then, their community has been suffering from severe drought. Like Walt’s short film, other filmmakers took advantage of Netflix’s opportunity to portray African stories and folk tales for the incredible traditions they are.
Netflix’s contribution to the preservation of African cultures and the telling of authentic African stories to global audiences does not begin and end with the anthology of African folk tales, as seen in the Cape to Cairo collection. movies like Silverton Siege, anikulapo, And Disconnect: The Wedding Planner All of which made Netflix’s top 10 lists at some point were narrated by Netflix’s local storytelling partners.
These and other films are also honored with prizes. In the 9th edition of the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA). The Originals from Netflix Aníkúlápó And shantytown received the highest number of nominations, with 16 and 11 nominations respectively. Kunle Afolayans Aníkúlápó won six categories, including “Best Overall Film”. As per the Netflix report, the streaming platform will continue to invest in telling original African stories to global audiences by expanding into new African regions, licensing and commissioning new titles.