African Film and the Televisual Turn

Curator's Note

African films circulate in a variety of ways today: in film festivals, in VCDs and DVDs, in terrestrial and satellite television, and on-line. My interest here is in the growing number of online platforms for distributing African film and television. If Netflix describes itself as the “world’s leading internet television network,” are these sites offering African content to be considered television as well? To what extent should the content on these sites be considered as televisual? Africamagic Go has a satellite television based component and started from satellite television (M-Net Dstv from South Africa), iROKOtv and Buni tv do not. iROKOtv started as an online company showing only Nollywood (Nigerian movies). Now it features Ghanaian films and even some content from Côte d’Ivoire. Buni tv comes out of Kenya, and features films from across Africa, some television content, and its popular animated show with Kenyan and Nigerian versions that is broadcast on local television: The XYZ Show. Sparrowstation is the platform owned by and distributing the films and televisual series of the Ghanaian director, Shirley Frimpong-Manso. Whatever relationships these sites might have with television and VCD sales, the televisual turn for African film is being mapped out on these sites, which all have different strategies for classifying content. The 5 sites showcased here all offer content that belongs in the realm of cinema as well as in televisual programming. Some of iROKOtv’s ‘movies’ having a running time of only 30 minutes and are to all intents and purposes completely identical with the ‘television series’ on the site. Some of the content now classified as ‘series’ on Sparrowstation were originally marketed as films and shown in cinema. The ambiguity of terminology is greatest with Dobox, which lists ‘movies’ and ‘series’ as separate categories on its home page, but includes audiovisual fiction divided into 6 or more parts under the movies label. Other sites make a neat distinction between ‘series’ in several parts (sometimes affixing the world television to the word ‘series’), and films. While the televisual turn of African film did not originate with these on-line platforms for African audiovisual fiction, in my opinion, they are likely to play an increasingly prominent role in policing the murky borders between film and television for African media content.

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