Cameroon’s Netflix boost big win for English-speaking minority
Number of Cameroonian films available on global streaming platform set to rise to four in coming days.
Yaounde, Cameroon – This month marks another milestone for Cameroon’s growing film industry, with two more movies set to premiere on Netflix.
A Man for the Weekend, a romantic comedy about a career-driven woman asking a colleague to pose as her boyfriend for a family reunion, is set to begin showing on the global platform on June 16. It will be followed by Broken, the story of a woman running away from marriage while putting her father’s company and her reputation on the line, on June 22.
The acquisitions bring to four the number of Cameroonian films on the United States-based streaming giant, after Therapy and The Fisherman’s Diary became available earlier this year.
“I definitely knew this moment would come,” said Ndamo Damarise, who played Teacher Bihbih in The Fisherman’s Diary, a critically acclaimed drama about a 12-year-old child called Ekah.
Inspired by Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, Ekah defies the odds to go to school in a fishing community where girl-child education is a taboo.
“I feel proud and elated to be part of this movement which hasn’t just gained global recognition, but has inspired so many lives positively by addressing very sensitive and burning issues in our community,” Damarise said.
‘We believed in our creativity’
The Fisherman’s Diary, which was pre-selected in the 2021 Oscars, attracted large international appeal for addressing the right to education.
It has won dozens of awards around the world, including eight at the 2020 Golden Movie Awards Africa (GMAA) in Ghana and four at the International Film Festival of Ahmednagar in India, including best film of 2021.
“We never, ever, saw ourselves getting this far,” said Kang Quintus, producer of The Fisherman’s Dairy. “It’s quite an achievement for Cameroon, that every Cameroonian should be proud of.”
Impressively, the film was shot in the coastal town of Limbe in 2019 during the peak of fighting in Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, which has been raging in its Northwest and Southwest regions.
“It was a huge challenge realising the project [in that context] given the insecurity – but we pulled through,” said Quintus. “We were able to stay focused and believed in our creativity.”
Indeed, the majority of Cameroonian films are produced in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, home to about 20 percent of the majority Francophone country’s 26 million people, as well as to Silicon Mountain, a nickname coined to represent the thriving tech ecosystem centred around the city of Buea.
All four movies acquired by Netflix have been produced by English-speaking Cameroonians.
“I wanted to produce a film that will be very impactful – a film that every community around the world can watch and relate to the story,” said Quintus, who received the film’s script in 2014 but only started working on it in 2019.
“I wasn’t ready then [in 2014]. I had to take my time to put together resources and the technical team,” he said. “I was very confident when we started shooting the film – it was a very inspiring story.”
‘Opportunity meeting readiness’
The Netflix exposure is a major boost for Anglophone movie makers who have long struggled to find an international platform to distribute and showcase their creations.
Things began changing a few years ago when they started putting their content on Amazon Prime and some airlines.
Agbor Gilbert, president of the Cameroon International Film Festival, who has been in the movie business since 2005, is one of the key actors who knocked Netflix’s doors for Cameroonian films.
“Netflix had been refusing to acquire [English-language] Cameroonian films because Cameroon’s cinema was entirely under a French organisation called OCAPAC that works with the French civil law system in Francophone Africa,” said Gilbert, noting that Anglophone Cameroonians had not “set up a copyright system (under common law) that will protect their own distribution”.
“So, I had meetings with Netflix officials so many times telling them that we [English-speaking Cameroonians] produce films – we are citizens of Cameroon but not French Cameroonians – we have our English systems, so we should benefit from the Anglo-Saxon platforms in the world,” said Gilbert.
“We even told them there are about four million Cameroonians in the US, of which three million are Anglophones,” he added.
“After front-and-back discussions, Netflix said our claims were genuine. So, the acquisitions were just a case of opportunity meeting readiness.”
Industry insiders are optimistic about the future of Cameroonian cinema, pointing, among others, to the growing collaboration with Nigerian actors from the neighbouring country’s popular Nollywood industry. However, some decry the lack of government policies that enable art to flourish.
“We were shooting a movie and we needed a courtroom in Buea,” said Anurin Nwunembom, director of Therapy, who has been doing films since 2001.
“We negotiated for two weeks and it ended up failing. We went to Tiko [a coastal town also in the Southwest region]; it still failed, so we had to sort a cultural centre,” he added.
“Most officials refuse to understand the place of art. These people are educated enough to see what the culture and entertainment industry is doing for other countries.”