Celebrating Black Women in Film and Television and Kenya

It is the golden age of black film and television content and creators, a historic second Kenyan female director joins the Academy and a glimpse at Rafiki (Kenya’s 1st at Cannes), Yellow Fever( Ng’endo Mukii tackles colorism), Lupita Nyong’o directs a Roadside drama and Kenya’s iconic Lamu through Philippa Ndisi-Hermann’s New Moon

This past week has been a beacon moment in film and television. Netflix, which is one of the biggest content providers across the world recreated an iconic moment in Hollywood, which re-centers the talented and black feature film and television series stars. It features, among others Ava DuVernay, who is one of the leading black female directors today, who did not pick up a filmcamera until she was 32 at the start of her blockbuster career.

Secondly, a first happened for Kenya, one more amazing film maker was inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, better known as the Oscars. Wanuri Kahiu is an Afrofuturist, and film director of Pumzi, From A Whisper and the Wangari Maathai-focused From Our Land. Most recently lauded at the Cannes Film Festival for Rafiki, the first Kenyan film to be screened at the festival – and banned in Kenya, she was this week the second female Kenyan director to be inducted. The first was the versatile Judy Kibinge. Check out more of her work

The recreation of A Great Day in Hollywood recalls A Great Day In Harlem, which was a photograph captured in 1958 of the most iconic jazz musicians in what was the Golden Age of Jazz. For those who have always had photographs at home, you have to imagine a time when this was a rare privilege to be memorialized on film, let alone to get so many incredible artists to be available at the same time in history together. And this is incredibly what this moment of film greats together calls to mind. In every part of the world, new content in the Netflix bouquet localises the experiences of the viewers, and there is a sense in the content that one should now be able to see oneself. This is the triumph of the moment, that being black and on film is never again going to be a limited engagement. That this is indeed the golden age of black television and film.

Nowhere more personal for me, is it to see Kenyan female film makers being screened, and being elevated in the world. Often when I was growing up in Kenya of the 1980s and 1990s, we watched one television station until 1990, which was the national broadcaster and had two channels until the mid-late 1990s when more stations went on the air. Until then, we watched cultural staples like Star Wars, the Karate Kid, and beloved animated cartoons on videotapes played on high-maintenance VHS Players. Head Cleaner and careful handling of equipment mandatory. And this is not forgetting that there were only a few video libraries where one could borrow the videotapes. I was very fortunate that my Dad took up this film selection seriously. A few of my cousins and I used to put on our own skits which made the films and cartoons come to life for our parents. I am more than sure that the filmmakers who are creating now went a step further to start writing scripts and putting together storyboards.

Moreover, we knew women read the news, or presented the weather, but we did not have an express understanding of women in the media being the decision makers, even though they invariably were pioneers in the newsroom. On the stage, if one was fortunate, we watched women acting in stage plays at the Phoenix Players theatre in Nairobi. I wished more women directed the plays, and I am sure some did. However, the vast majority of those who appeared in the playbills with the director credit were men. This may seem very outdated thinking, and it was very last century. Now, interviews with Kenyan women in film reveal that there were so many women waiting, building skills, building portfolios and this is their time to shine. Well in Wanuri, and Judy. You have done us proud.

If you have not yet had a chance to see Wanuri’s film Rafiki, watch the official trailer below

If reading this has made you want to discover more work by black film makers from Kenya, check out the work of the following Kenyan female film directors

1- Ng’endo Mukii, Yellow Fever an incredible short about the politics of black skin

2- Lupita Nyong’oIn My Genes and The Roadside – if you have seen her other films, you will enjoy this offbeat short film about the roadside experience in Kenya

3- Philippa Ndisi-Hermann‘s New Moon – a film about one woman’s spiritual awakening in the middle of her storytelling journey through one of Kenya’s most beautiful and historic coastal areas, Lamu

You can follow me on Twitter – @SunnyKay

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