“Excellent content starts with a blank page,” Allison Triegaardt, Manager: Netflix Grow Creative Africa said during the LeadUP Alumni Thought Leadership conversation ‘Telling Africa’s Stories: The Business of Innovation, Collaboration and Creativity’ event, which recently took place with industry experts and University of Pretoria (UP) alumni guests. The panel discussion was moderated by journalist and strategic communications practitioner Sebenzile Nkambule.
“Cultivating audiences and keeping them tuned in is a key priority for any broadcaster or streaming service. At Netflix we focus on creating best in-class stories across genres, while giving consumers control over what they watch and when they watch. Our business philosophy is simple – we focus on creating member or subscriber joy because we know that by giving audiences what they want, more people will choose Netflix,” she said. “I think competition is healthy because it keeps business sharp and nimble, and it ensures that the catalogue is diverse enough to cater to different appetites. This means that more than ever before there are new and more opportunities for African story tellers to tell their stories.”
UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal: Professor Tawana Kupe tuned in virtually to the discussion and said that the topic was close to his heart. “I think we have long passed a point where people told stories about Africa for Africans; we are now in a space where Africans are telling their own stories across multiple mediums and media, and are generating and growing huge African audiences. The majority of African writers are female, and they are leading in that space and doing well out there; this tells the story of African women coming to be amazing amid all the complexities that include gender-based violence, etc.,” he said.
When asked about the role and significance of storytelling in African societies and the impact that they have in preserving culture, James Ngcobo, Artistic Director: Joburg City Theatres, indicated that when you work in a theatre and in the business of curating spaces, one needs to constantly be looking for that piece that the theatre is yet to programme. “For me it makes the work of an artistic director like someone who walks with a basket, and is constantly looking at how to fill this basket with excitement. This also speaks to how a theatre challenges itself to go into untapped territories, because it is easy and simple for a theatre to simply say 'this is what we do'.”
He said with respect, a theatre that does that is a dead theatre because it follows what it has always done and not challenges.
“A theatre needs to challenge itself; challenge the artists that are given roles and challenge the directors and writers who are working with these artists. However, perhaps even more important, is to challenge the patron who is comfortable with what the theatre has always produced. You need to start taking the patron to different spaces and woo people with your content so that they can support theatres.”
Echoing Ngcobo’s sentiments was Professor David Medalie, Director of University of Pretoria’s Creative Writing Unit, who said there is also extraordinary diversity in the themes that are emerging as broad and as exciting as creativity itself can be. “We have different students who have tapped into different types of writing, some of them have explored forms of trauma, from childhood to adulthood, and how difficult it is to come to terms with trauma. We have a graduate whose novel was shortlisted for the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award; his novel is outstanding but very difficult to read and is about the experiences of illegal Zimbabwean migrants in this country – the novel is done very well and powerfully. Others have explored Christianity as related to their environment, and ecological anxieties about the relationship between humankind and animals.
Noxolo Dlamini, UP alumna and star of Netflix’s 'Jiva!' series, said: “As an actress, you sometimes come across artists who just want to do their work and that is it, with some of us we are in the business of carrying our work wherever we go. I believe that direct engagement with audiences – if it does not go to your head – can help a lot. We work with agencies and that is how we get jobs, and when the audience has access to us, we open up opportunities of possible partnerships with brands and ambassadorships. This helps to expand artists and to be entrepreneurial, because both brands and artists grow in that way.”