The African Film and TV Scene: Political Dramas, Russell Peters and Reality TV

What is Russell Peters doing playing a Canadian cop in a show set in India and shot in South Africa? He’s taking part in one of the many productions that bear witness to asuccessful partnership between the Great White North and the African continent’s southernmost country.

When people think of Africa’s film and television industries, they probably have visions of programs about safaris and exotic wildlife or perhaps the movies of Nigeria’s ‘Nollywood,’ a veritable entertainment machine that pumps out more than 50 feature-length productions each and every week.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the industry on this continent that is currently inhabited by some 1.2 billion people. That’s why we have produced two fact sheets that explore in detail several key African markets, including South Africa (the links to the PDFs can be found at the end of this post).

Canada and South Africa: a 20-year partnership

In 2017, Canada and South Africa celebrated the 20th anniversary of their film and television co-production treaty, with over two dozen productions that are evidence of its success. Highlights of the partnership include the documentary Five Roads to Freedom: From Apartheid To The World Cup, the animated Caillou V and the historical drama Winnie.

One Canadian company with strong ties to the South African entertainment industry is Toronto’s Blue Ice Pictures, which acquired Cape Town-based Out of Africa Entertainment in 2011. The coming together of these two entities, along with a subsequent investment in the production company Blue Afrika, has made Blue Ice the largest production company in South Africa.

At the same time, the picturesque country surrounded by two oceans is now home to studio facilities that rival those of North America and Europe, bringing both domestic and international media production to cities such as Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

Blue Ice’s Lance Samuels has witnessed firsthand the extent to which South Africa’s service industry is booming. This is the result of incentives such as the tax rebate introduced in 2004, co-production treaties such as the one with Canada, and a world that has generally become more global.

Yes, it’s an 18-hour flight to South Africa for most people, but a producer will go where they get the biggest return on every dollar spent.

— Lance Samuels, Blue Ice Pictures

A recent Blue Ice project that leveraged the Canada-South Africa co-production treaty is The Indian Detective, produced for Bell in Canada and Netflix in South Africa. The miniseries stars Russell Peters as a Toronto police officer visiting his father in India who then gets caught up in a murder investigation. The Indian Detective premiered as part of CTV’s 2017–2018 schedule.

Localized reality TV: among the most popular shows in Africa

Elsewhere on the African continent, the media and entertainment industries are in varying states of evolution, partly as a result of the hundreds of millions of people who now have connectivity thanks to mobile devices and partly because of an influx of imported content.

While television content in most African countries is a mix of locally produced programming and shows and movies produced abroad, reality TV is also extremely popular. Localized versions of well-known formats such as The Voice, Africa’s Got Talent and Big Brother Africa are watched in over a dozen countries, with the latter reported to be the most watched television show in all of Africa.

Though Africa has become the fastest-growing market in the world for mobile phones and most of the continent’s population uses mobile devices to access the internet, internet penetration rates vary greatly from one country to the next.

Countries such as Burundi, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Somalia have internet penetration of between 2% and 5%, Morocco and Nigeria come in at about 50%and Kenya boasts the highest internet penetration rate (approximately 80%).

For more on the current media and entertainment landscape of selected African countries click here and to learn more about the state of the industry in South Africa, click here.

Leora Kornfeld
So far in life, Leora has been a record store clerk, a CBC radio host, a Harvard Business School case writer, a blogger and a crossword puzzle clue. Currently she’s a media and technology consultant, working with clients in the US and Canada.
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