With the level at which Hollywood is embracing the beauty of Africa, from the tempest that was Black Panther, to this remake of The Lion King, one cannot help but wonder if this is not yet another “In The Jungle” saga.
Questions of whether there is real value for Africa as a continent or if this is just another form of cultural appropriation arise.
In 2018, the Marvel movie Black Panther was hailed as “a celebration of black culture”, as people flocked to cinemas to watch the black superhero in a film created with a mostly black cast and the question of who was the true beneficiary of the film’s success rose.
Yes, it meant Hollywood could no longer use the excuse that having a “person of colour” as lead automatically meant that the film would tank. It also put the spotlight on African tribes and traditional outfits through the set designer who drew inspiration from the continent.
Our very own local stars, John Kani, Atandwa Kani and Connie Chiume, got the international exposure and recognition they deserve. Those are all great achievements but what happens after Hollywood’s interest fades?
A few years ago after having been an avid fan of The Lion King as a child to the extent of knowing the script as though it were the Baa Baa Black Sheep lyrics, I was informed that the majestic soprano that soars through the opening of my favourite movie of all time belongs to none other than the legendary Lebo M himself.
Even though the movie was about Africa, it was still unfathomable that a black South African would be the one to open such a monumental classic; it was at this moment that I believed it possible for a young black South African to make it into Hollywood.
Fast forward to years later, a friend of mine, Nhlanhla Ngubeni, was cast as Mufasa for The Lion King Brazil, and later moved to The Lion King New York. This is when I believed that a young black South African boy can make it to Broadway.
This is what The Lion King did for me as an African, not only gave me confidence of what is possible, but I also got to witness and experience friends live out their dreams through it.
However does the success of one or two cast members from Africa create the platform for other space to be accessed? Does it benefit the arts industry on our continent financially to fund and invest in other works of great narrative?
I think it logical for one to fear Africa being another Solomon Linda whose hit Mbube became one of the biggest songs of the times, and him only receiving 10 shillings (about 87 cents) when he signed over the copyright.
From the looks of it, this movie will hit the billion dollar mark, does it owe anything to Africa, and if so, what is the debt, and how will it pay it?
What Africa needs is for the fascination with the continent to start yielding lasting results.
Hopefully, films like these will open doors of opportunities for Africa as a place to invest in on things such as tourism, film and technology. Let this be one small step for Hollywood and one giant leap for Africa.