Africa’s film industry has evolved over the years. Filmmakers of African descent are using their talents to bring personal expression and social change to the world stage. Despite the many obstacles that the industry is facing, filmmakers are crafting fictional narratives that explore new ideas and portray many perspectives on contemporary concerns.
From their first feature film debut to making significant discourse-worthy films on the world stage, here are five remarkable filmmakers in West Africa that you should know:
Nigerian-American Chinonye Chukwu (b. 1985) is a film screenwriter, producer and director. She is known for the drama films: Clemency and Till. She is the first African American woman to receive the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Alaskaland (2012), about an American-Nigerian brother and sister who reconcile in their birthplace of Alaska, was her first feature narrative.
Chinonye’s short film, The Dancing Lesson, won the prestigious Princess Grace Award. The film first premiered at the Ritz Theater in Philadelphia before it was acquired by MindTV for regional network distribution. The film received an Honourable Mention at the Los Angeles International Film Festival. It was also a Regional Finalist for the 2010 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Student Academy Awards.
One of Chinonye’s other works is Igbo Kwenu!, which won the 2009 Diamond Screen Festival’s “Best Motion Picture Award” as well as the “Best Screenplay Award” and the PIFVA Subsidy Grant from the independent film community.
Senegalese-French Alain Gomis (b. 1972) is a film director and screenwriter. His films explore the complexities of identity that describe the relationship between francophone Africa and its diaspora. He explores the multifaceted issues of identity, foreignness, and agency using his own personal experience with dual nationality and the search for belonging. He is most known for his films L’Afrance (2001), Aujourd’hui (2012), Angdalucia (2017), and Felicite (2017), which highlight the themes of foreignness, the individual, and the invisible while telling the lives of young immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. His film Félicité (2017) was selected as the Senegalese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards.
Gomis is the founder of the Yennenga Center, the first cultural center dedicated to cinema in Senegal. He is an important figure in the promotion of film, and the development of local talent in Senegal and throughout Africa. He started making his short documentaries while teaching the basics of filmmaking to school kids in the Paris suburbs.
Born in 1982, Blitz Bazawule is a Ghanaian-born filmmaker and musician based in New York. “The Burial Of Kojo,” his feature directorial debut, aired on Netflix in 2019 via array. The Burial Of Kojo was the first Ghanaian entry at the Golden Globes. It was also the first original movie from Ghana to be released on the Netflix streaming platform. The film was later acquired by Ava Duvernay, renowned Hollywood producer, for distribution in the US, Canada, UK, and New Zealand. He received a Grammy nomination in 2020 for co-directing Beyoncé’s “Black Is King”. Blitz is directing ‘The Color Purple Musical,’ produced by Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, and Scott Sanders.
Bazawule also founded the Africa Film Society, a community dedicated to the preservation and distribution of classic African cinema. He has received numerous awards like Guggenheim Fellowship, TED Fellowship, and Vilcek Award.
Apolline Traoré (b. 1976) is a Burkinabé filmmaker and producer. She attended Boston’s Emerson College to study film. The Price of Ignorance, her debut short film, won the Prix du Jury at the Pan African Film Festival in Ouagadougou. In 2002, she also wrote and directed the 20-episode television series called Monia et Rama. She returned to Burkina Faso in 2005 and started working with pioneering Burkinabé director Idrissa Ouédraogo. In 2008, she directed a television series, Le testament. Her film Borders won three prizes at FESPACO 2017, including the Paul Robeson Prize for the Best Film by a Director from the African Diaspora.
Born in 1982, Mati Diop is a French-Senegalese filmmaker and actress. She lives and works between Paris and Dakar. Using both fictional and documentary techniques, her films examine exile and identity, memory and loss. She made her directorial debut with her short film Last Night (2004). Diop is the first black female director to be nominated for the Palme d’Or, a top award at the Cannes Film Festival, for her 2019 movie Atlantics. She has also directed several short-films and medium-length films, including Snow Canon (2011), Big in Vietnam (2012), A Thousand Suns (2013), and In My Room (2020).
Diop’s work has been featured at the Venice Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the BFI London Film Festival, and the Valdivia International Film Festival, as well as the Museum of the Moving Image.