Mo Abudu: media mogul putting Africa in the picture

When I first meet Mo Abudu, probably the most highly effective movie and TV producer in Africa, she is ingesting prosecco with buddies on the new manufacturing workplace of her firm, EbonyLife, in Lagos. They’re celebrating the opening of the EbonyLife Creative Academy, the place lots of of younger Nigerians will have the ability to be taught every little thing from manufacturing to screenwriting to appearing and lighting without spending a dime — because of help from the native authorities.

Upstairs, the solid of Castle & Castle, the Lagos-set authorized procedural that aired its first sequence on Abudu’s satellite tv for pc TV channel, is filming sequence two on a ground that has been mocked as much as be the eponymous legislation agency’s places of work. It will air later this yr on Netflix underneath a landmark deal Abudu struck with the streaming big. 

She and her buddies are discussing the glass and metal places of work of a few of Lagos’s high legislation corporations, which she compares to photographs on the wall that present the grittier lives of on a regular basis Nigerians. “I really like these footage, as a result of it’s a part of who we’re — however that isn’t all we’re,” she says. EbonyLife does gritty and glamorous, however Abudu can also be interested by altering perceptions of the continent from those she heard at boarding college in England: do you reside in a hut? Do you will have lions and giraffes operating in your backyard?

“The similar questions I used to be being requested in England [40 years ago] are the identical questions my youngsters have been being requested after they went to highschool in England,” she says. 

EbonyLife is growing two sequence and a number of movies for Netflix — one based mostly on Lola Shoneyin’s ebook The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and one other on Nobel Prize-winning playwright Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. The first movie, Òlòturé, a few journalist who goes undercover as a intercourse employee in Lagos, aired in October.

Ikechukwu Onunaku in ‘Òlòturé’ (2019), which first aired on Netflix final October © Alamy

Streamers corresponding to Netflix have seen success with non-western narratives, she says. “People are having fun with these tales,” she tells me a number of days later over Zoom, the place we’ve determined to proceed our chat. “It’s working as a result of . . . it makes enterprise sense to supply the world tales that they’ll relate to, not tales which can be nearly a selected a part of the world, however tales that embody everybody.”

The Netflix deal was the primary of 4 main offers she signed previously yr, together with an settlement with AMC, the US community behind Mad Men and The Walking Dead, to develop a sci-fi present known as Nigeria 2099. In February, she introduced a cope with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studios to develop two extra sequence and a film, together with a first-look TV cope with Sony Pictures Television.

It’s an unprecedented run for an African manufacturing firm and speaks, she says, to the standard of EbonyLife’s work and the truth that the world is able to hear African narratives.

“I feel what’s occurred is that the world has gotten to a spot whereby it has determined that it wants extra tales, it wants totally different backdrops and that there must be extra range in storytelling,” she says. “The story that will get advised from our continent in movie has been concerning the slave commerce. Now, I’m not saying it’s not an vital a part of our historical past, but it surely’s not the one historical past we’ve — there may be a lot extra. And I feel that now, studios world wide are appreciating the truth that they’ll commercialise these tales, as a result of they’ve by no means been advised.”

She bristles barely once I ask her what the sequence of offers says about Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie trade, a cultural behemoth on the continent. 

EbonyLife’s authorized sequence ‘Castle & Castle’, sequence two of which can air later this yr on Netflix © Emmanuel Oyeleke

“Nollywood means movie, and lots of the work we do is movie and tv. So I don’t need to say that it’s greater than Nollywood as a result of Nollywood is an enormous trade, however I’m simply attempting to see if Nollywood really defines the work that we do,” she says. She factors to the current string of offers: “The sort of tasks that we’ve signed, and the offers we’re doing, they’re world in nature . . . But I really like Nollywood, and . . . I need to proceed to do native tales, as a result of I feel our field workplace must develop in Nigeria.”

Why does she assume the leisure trade has come round to world content material? “It needed to occur sooner or later, as a result of there simply wasn’t any range. There simply wasn’t any fairness within the storytelling world wide . . . Particularly within the final yr, we’ve seen the significance of Black Lives Matter. And after we say Black Lives Matter, black tales matter, African storytelling issues,” she says. “So I feel the world has simply sort of now woken as much as this actuality, that it’s time to listen to extra.”

Abudu was born in Hammersmith in west London however moved to Nigeria as a toddler earlier than heading again to the UK for boarding college and college. She returned to Nigeria within the early Nineteen Nineties and labored as the top of HR for the oil firm ExxonMobil. She left that job to discovered a recruitment company, Vic Lawrence & Associates, when she bought the itch to launch her personal discuss present. 

She took a course in London on easy methods to be a TV presenter, watched an Oprah Winfrey DVD field set after which went into the places of work of MultiChoice, the satellite tv for pc TV supplier, and pitched her thought. Moments with Mo debuted in 2006. Like Oprah, it lined on a regular basis home points — love at first sight, weight-reduction plan, having all of it — however from an African perspective.

“I really like watching The Oprah Show. I imply, who doesn’t? But how related is that this to individuals throughout the continent? If she’s protecting a subject like sexual abuse, how does that American helpline provide help to right here in Nigeria?” she says. “If Oprah is doing a present about weight reduction, for instance, now, what on earth is she going to inform you to eat that’s related to an African? Our diets are totally different. So I had dietitians come on my present that will say, OK, domestically, eat this . . . it was about simply discovering the relevance to every little thing on an area stage.”

Mo Abudu on her discuss present ‘Moments with Mo’ in 2011 with Christine Lagarde, then head of the IMF

It has since aired lots of of episodes and Abudu has interviewed most of Nigeria’s strongest politicians, in addition to the likes of Hillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde. With the success of the discuss present, Abudu launched a channel named after her manufacturing firm, EbonyLife, in 2012, and a movie studio in 2014. Before Òlòturé, it had largely produced comedies, and its seven movies are among the many top-grossing Nigerian movies of all time.

Before the pandemic, Abudu knew that conventional TV was dying, even on a continent the place greater than half the individuals don’t have any web entry. The future is streaming, in all places, she says, and the streamers are actually listening to African narratives. But there may be nonetheless extra work to be achieved.

“I simply need to inform tales that don’t must be labeled as an African story — I simply need to inform actually nice tales that the world goes to understand,” she says. “When an American tells a narrative, it’s not preceded with the phrase [‘American’]. It’s simply thought-about an ideal story. And I simply need to be at a degree whereby we’re a part of that ecosystem that gives nice content material for the world to get pleasure from.”

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