Nigerian television pioneer Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife Media, has blasted the UK television industry for its “shameful” lack of programming made by and for black audiences.
Speaking during an online session at the Berlinale Series Market yesterday, Abudu said she is currently spending more time in the UK urging commissioners at broadcasters to mirror global streamers such as Netflix.
Discussing the TV industry in general, the media mogul said: “A lot of the gatekeepers are still middle-aged white men who really still have a very, very different view of the world and the sort of programmes they think they should be commissioning.
“We need to become gatekeepers. We need to see African women, we need to see black women as gatekeepers. And we are seeing that, with Netflix, we do see that there are black gatekeepers based out in Amsterdam.
“They’ve trailblazed into the continent and realised there is a place for African and black storytelling. That gate is definitely very open to us. But what about the other gates around the world? Why isn’t my story as relevant to the gatekeepers in the UK?
“The black creative economy in the UK is non-existent. It is shameful. Commissioners and broadcasters need to look to themselves and say, we don’t even have a sitcom or a drama series that reflects black life on television in the UK.
“I’m not saying you won’t see people of colour in some of the programmes. But there are no specific shows speaking to us. We are a community of people and we deserve to have shows that speak to us as communities. So we are knocking on those doors and saying you need to do more. That is why I am spending more time in the UK, reaching out to commissioners and broadcasters,” said Abudu, who has launched EbonyLife Productions UK.
Initiatives in the UK intended to improve representation on screen and off include Channel 4’s Black to Front project, which saw the commercial pubcaster’s entire programming schedule fronted by black talent and contributors for one day in September last year.
Asked about Black to Front, Abudu said: “it is something and absolutely better than nothing,” but there needs to be “a shift in the types of stories being told” and more still needs to be done to improve representation throughout the schedule.
Abudu added that while EbonyLife Media is yet to make headway with the BBC, it did strike a development partnership with the drama production department of its commercial arm BBC Studios last year.
The two are working on action-adventure series Reclaim, which explores issues of colonialism, race and cultural ownership. The six-part heist thriller follows the story of a team of art thieves looking to return artworks stolen by the British Empire 125 years ago from the Kingdom of Benin back to its rightful home in Nigeria. Abudu said the series is currently being “shopped around” for a potential buyer.