Abudu questions industry diversity efforts

By Content Nigeria reporter
October 18, 2023

Mo Abudu on stage at Mipcom

EbonyLife Media CEO Mo Abudu has blasted worldwide content commissioners for the lack of African stories in films and television and questioned whether the steps companies have taken to enhance representation have been sincere.

During her keynote interview at Mipcom in Cannes, Abudu said that while most organisations have established diversity and inclusion departments or appointed inclusivity-focused executives, there is little evidence to date that they have made a difference.

“Is there sincerity of purpose when [they say they are] setting up these diversity and inclusion departments? What are they there for? They’re there to serve a purpose and the impact of that isn’t being felt at the moment,” said Abudu, who later asked: “Are we just doing it because we feel we need to do something?”

Abudu, whose company produces projects including the Nigerian thriller series Blood Sisters for Netflix, said the onus is on the commissioners within the studios and streamers to buy more African shows.

“When you are speaking to commissioners and gatekeepers, it’s almost as if they’ve got a ready list of responses as to why they’re not going to make your show,” she said.

“Ultimately, they’re the ones who decide what ends up on our TV screens and they’ve decided that people like me, necessarily, shouldn’t be represented on television, that my stories are not worthy of being told.”

In terms of budgets, Abudu said the potential of African shows is being significantly impeded by the fact they do not receive production or marketing budgets that create the conditions for success.

“You can’t make a show at US$1m an episode and then make another show at US$10m an episode and expect my show to compete with your show. It’s like apples and oranges,” she said.

“I’m not saying give me the Stranger Things budget, what I’m saying is our shows are going to need [higher] budgets so we can compete globally, because we are part of the globe. We shouldn’t be restricted to just having our shows done on a local basis for local.”

Earlier this year, EbonyLife Media unveiled a partnership with Idris Elba’s Green Door Pictures to develop a slate of television and film projects that will “empower and uplift” talent from Africa and its diaspora.

The company also has a multi-title deal with Netflix, in addition to projects in development with the likes of the BBC, Sony, Lionsgate, Westbrook and Will Packer.

Abudu said the company also had a project in development with AMC Networks but it has since come back to EbonyLife.

Despite the inroads the company has made with major players, Abudu insisted that African series and movies are “sitting at the bottom of the pyramid” in terms of their importance to global companies.

That’s not to say no progress is being made. Abudu said she was encouraged by the fact the global streaming services are moving into the African content now and investing in bringing local stories to the screen.

However, those companies will need to do more to demonstrate that they are serious about taking African content to global audiences, she argued.

“What frustrates me is that if you look at the pyramid of local content versus global content, where is African or black storytelling sitting in that pyramid? A lot of it is probably sitting at the bottom of the pyramid,” she said.