Narendra Reddy, EVP & general manager at The Africa Channel, tells TBI about his company’s mission to serve the African Diaspora and why a cycle of economic inclusion is vital to improving diversity.
Last year brought to the forefront the critical need for diversity and inclusion in every industry around the world.
While the disparities didn’t just happen overnight, the backdrop of a global pandemic and racial reckoning only helped to put a spotlight on a problem that for too long has been festering in the shadows.
This is especially true when it comes to representation in TV. Most major networks have largely ignored the needs of diverse Black audiences worldwide for too long. Although diversity is the buzzword of the day, representation in British TV has gone backward, with Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) down from 12.3% in 2019 to 11.8% in 2020, both on-screen and behind-the-scenes.
The distinct needs of the rapidly growing Black diaspora to the American and European Continent have largely gone unrecognised – in the US, this foreign-born audience represents nearly 20% of the total Black American population
Protests from Black creatives across the UK TV industry are forcing the industry to look head-on at the state of affairs within its folds and recognise that much work is needed to bring about a sense of equity.
Across the pond in the US, although a certain amount of progress has been made with on-screen talent in recent years, a recent Mckinsey study determined that “inequity still persists and is deeply entrenched across the film and TV ecosystem.”
According to the 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report, network heads are 92% male and 68% white (as of Sept 2020), and only 1 in 10 show creators are people of colour. But without the voices of diverse Black creators or decision-makers, there can be no real push to address the diversity within the diversity of Black audiences.
The lack of inclusive Black representation at the decision-making levels of companies contributes to an additional often hidden problem – the failure to acknowledge that Black audiences are not monolithic in their interests and in their viewing preferences, specifically the needs of the African diaspora.
The distinct needs of the rapidly growing Black diaspora – predominantly individuals who have emigrated from Africa and the Caribbean – to the American and European Continent have largely gone unrecognised. In the US, this foreign-born audience represents nearly 20% of the total Black American population.
A small group of traditional television networks, streaming platforms and production companies have recognised the need. Still, they have faced numerous challenges to their growth, often lone wolves in an increasingly consolidated landscape.
Television platforms such as The Africa Channel, Demand Africa, Rok TV, Afro, and production companies such as [The Africa Channel’s division] TAC Studios continue to make strides in meeting the needs of Black audiences across the diaspora in a meaningful manner bringing contemporary African entertainment and content from the diaspora to global markets. This continues to foster the cycle of inclusion by providing opportunities for Black creatives from the diaspora to showcase their work.
Programmers need to find authentic stories that bridge cultures and reflect heritage in order to serve the unique needs of the Black diaspora audience
A recent partnership between Demand Africa and Samsung TV Plus has brought African content for the first time in history to Central and South America shortly after Afro-Mexicans were counted, also for the first time in history on the 2020 Census.
In Brazil, the partnership also led to bringing Afro-centric content to one of the largest African diaspora population centers in the world. In the US, Demand Africa has the distinction of being the only Africa-centric platform on Pluto, Xumo, Roku Channels and soon to be launched on Amazon Channels among others, with a potential reach exceeding 100 million households.
Incorporating healthy revenue share arrangements with creators from the diaspora, the company strives for a cycle of economic inclusion while promoting diversity.
In addition to increasing distribution opportunities, a conversation about serving diverse Black audiences would be incomplete without addressing content development and production. Africa and the Caribbean have always served as an exotic backdrop for western productions.
Still, it was not until Disney’s feature production of Black Panther that Africa received any attention as a source of stories and talent. Programmers need to find authentic stories that bridge cultures and reflect heritage in order to serve the unique needs of the Black diaspora audience. While Black Panther opened the door by demonstrating the commercial appeal of such content globally, there is still so much more that can be done.
Companies such as Netflix have made headlines with their ongoing commitment to invest in the African continent. Newer production houses such as TAC Studios have struck co-production and development deals between rising and experienced producers to bring Africa and diaspora stories to the global marketplace.
As the appetite for Black content continues to grow, representation of diversity within diversity of Black culture becomes that much more relevant, drawing audiences to Black voices across the continent and beyond because nuances in cultures matter
Johannesburg-based Brendan Gabriel, VP of TAC Studios, said his company “is particularly excited in our collaboration with writers and creatives from the UK and the US who share our mission in building bridges and bringing compelling stories about the Africa experience to global audiences.”
As the appetite for Black content continues to grow, representation of diversity within diversity of Black culture becomes that much more relevant, drawing audiences to Black voices across the continent and beyond because nuances in cultures matter. In the words of Nigeria’s Grammy award-winning Afrobeats superstar Burna Boy: “In order for Black lives to matter, Africa must matter.”
The Africa Channel and its production arm, TAC Studios, offers English-language TV series, specials, documentaries, feature films, music, biographies and cultural and historical content from Africa.