Not the same old African story

Nollywood studio boss Mo Abudu and author Dipo Faloyin discuss how Africans are redefining how the world sees them.

The World Today
5 minute READ

Mo Abudu

Chief executive officer, EbonyLife Group (Lagos, London, Los Angeles)

Dipo Faloyin

Senior editor, Vice magazine

Mo Abudu
EbonyLife’s latest TV drama series, Blood Sisters, was in Netflix’s global top 10. It’s a thriller and it may be slightly melodramatic because we Nigerians are melodramatic. But it deals with universal themes. Nigerians are no different to anyone else. I want EbonyLife productions increasingly to appeal to anyone in the world, even if it’s in our language. Oloture, one of our films, was about human trafficking. It was all done in pidgin English and subtitled. I watch a lot of Korean dramas and Spanish dramas that are subtitled. A good story is a good story.

Dipo Faloyin
The influence that African countries have had on the West, from music, food and film to literature, science and technology, is something people find difficult to take seriously. So, it’s good to see Netflix and other production companies take it more seriously. How has your discussion with them changed since the early days?

Mo Abudu
I have been going to an entertainment market in Cannes called Mipcom for about 12 years, and at first no one had any interest in African content. So, we focused on doing local content for local markets. Now, different communities around the world want representation in content that speaks to them. Specific countries are also saying to streamers: ‘What’s your local content strategy?’ 

I’m not telling broadcasters to commission original African content as a charity project – they can make money from this

Mo Abudu


Netflix was the first of the streamers to come into Africa, and it now has an Africa office. Amazon has also made inroads recently. Disney is arriving. In the United States and Britain, they just need to maintain subscriber numbers, but real growth for them is going to be in Asia and Africa. 

I’m not telling broadcasters or distributors to commission original African content as a charity project – they can make money from this. Within five days of launch, Blood Sisters registered 11 million hours of viewing on Netflix around the world. It was made on a budget five times smaller than productions outside Africa. But we need to be among the gatekeepers, too. 

Moving beyond Hollywood

Dipo Faloyin
The challenge that many creatives across Africa have is that people [elsewhere] don’t necessarily feel like they relate to this continent. They see ‘Africa’ and its cultures as very distant. Instead of intricate, specific stories, simple stories of simple people have been pushed about the continent. 

I still get asked questions like, ‘But, what should we do about Africa’s problems?’ My response is, ‘Stop seeing Africa as just a problem.’ 

The Nigerian film 'Oloture', told partly in pidgin English, deals with the issue of human trafficking

A still from the Nigerian film ‘Oloture’, released in 2022, which deals with issues of human trafficking.

Mo Abudu
I was speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum recently and the panel started off talking about the ‘problems of Africa’ – and I had to jump in and say, ‘I get you guys talking about the problems, I’m not an economist, I’m just an entrepreneur, but from an entrepreneurial perspective, we have resources – like cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo that’s in all of our mobile phones.’ 

The problem is, we ship out all our resources and by the time they come back to us, they are 10-times more expensive than we can afford. I keep saying that they need to know they need us as much as we need them.
 
Dipo Faloyin
There are certainly issues within the continent like there are everywhere else; but more accurate stories will help people have a better sense of the context in which so many communities and their lives have been built up. 

Mo Abudu
The West doesn’t seem to have any interest in making films about Africa unless it’s about the worst of Africa: the slave trade, the Rwandan genocide, blood diamonds. That seems to be what has defined us. 

Dipo Faloyin
If you ask most people around the world to close their eyes and picture Africa, two images will come up: safari, and poverty and strife. Until the age of 12, I grew up in Lagos, a metropolis with no wild animals running around. There are slums, of course, but also traffic, shopping centres and overpriced restaurants. 

Writers who pitch ideas to Vice.com where I work often still don’t differentiate African countries. They’ll say, ‘There’s been a coup in Mali. Why can’t Africa get its head around democracy?’, and I remind them a small minority of countries on the continent is under any form of authoritarian rule. 

It’s frustrating that this perception hasn’t changed. For us to break through we need big cultural institutions – Hollywood, museums, literature – to allow people from across the regions to tell these stories. We are rarely portrayed as protagonists and forward thinkers. But I’m excited for the future.

Content contd.

Mo Abudu
I’m excited too. We have a TV project called The Dahomey Warriors in partnership with Sony. These warrior women of Dahomey [in West Africa] lived full, great lives fighting wars on behalf of their king for centuries and, because we’re doing a series, we have the opportunity to unpack how they resisted the French. Their story is touched on in Black Panther, and there’s a film version coming soon called The Woman King with Viola Davis. 

Unapologetic ambassadors

Dipo Faloyin
During the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of African Americans started to rebuild connections with the continent. Coming back at Christmas for a good time is important. But if they take on the role of telling the story of their homeland to the world, it’s important to engage with political struggles like EndSARS, the campaign against police brutality in Nigeria. 

Afrobeats artists like Burna Boy, Tems and Wizkid deserve huge credit because they project our identity to the world unapologetically

Dipo Faloyin


If you want to have a discussion about Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe and what happened there, have an understanding about the 30 years that came before that. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to please a western audience – it can be easy to downplay issues back home. 

Mo Abudu
I went back to Nigeria a married woman at 30, and I’m nearly 60 now. Don’t get me wrong, we have our challenges on the continent and in Nigeria. Take Murtala Muhammed international airport, for example. I’m as frustrated as the next person. It is a struggle. But I have achieved more by being based in Nigeria and setting up EbonyLife which has now become a global company.

Dipo Faloyin
Many of Nigeria’s Afrobeats artists, like Burna Boy, Tems, Wizkid and Davido, deserve a huge amount of credit because they have been able to project our identity to the world unapologetically. Now you have white English boys rapping in Yoruba, words they don’t understand, but because a good time is a good time. It’s important to build that relatability between cultures.

Nigerian Afrobeats artist Burna Boy performing at Wembley Arena, London, in 2019

Nigerian Afrobeats artist Burna Boy performing at Wembley Arena, London, in 2019.

Within Africa, Nollywood films have been important in giving other countries a sense of Nigeria. And Nollywood’s popularity through DStv and other broadcasters has helped all Africans get a sense of other African countries.  The stuff about 419-style financial fraud is a very old-fashioned stereotype that doesn’t really speak to modern Nigeria. Many young people, especially, have developed themselves in so many different industries.

Telling these migrant stories will help to fix that. For instance, until the Russian invasion, I didn’t realize there had been such a big population of Nigerians in Ukraine; apparently, they study medicine there. 

Mo Abudu
For every bad story there is about an African there are 10 great stories. But the media often blows up that one story and we’re all tainted.

Which is why every time I’m asked to speak at an international event, I try to be an ambassador for Nigeria, for black women, for African women, for the continent, and speak about the fact that we have great people inventing great things, setting up great businesses and working hard in our societies. And that’s the story that I will keep telling.