Efforts to diversify the global television industry have fallen short, argued Nigerian-British Media Mogul Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife Media, in a keynote on diversity and inclusion at global film and television industry at the MIPCOM Cannes on Tuesday.
Despite much-ballyhooed D&I attempts by studios and streamers, Abudu said she still sees a startling lack of real diversity on international TV screens.
“I continue to see very little on television that reflects me as a woman of color,” she said, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter‘s co-editor-in-chief Nekesa Mumbi Moody. “You think over the years there would be a change coming, with every company having a diversity and inclusion department officer. But one wonders why, because the representation just isn’t there. There just needs to be a lot more work done.”
Abudu, who this year topped The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual list of the Most Powerful Women in Global Entertainment, spoke ahead of the 7th edition of Mipcom’s Diversify TV Awards, the only global honor recognizing the promotion of diversity and inclusion at international media organizations.
But despite her success — EbonyLife Media into one of Africa’s leading production companies and Abudu has productions in development with the likes of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studios, Will Packer Productions, and Idris Elba’s Green Door Pictures — Abudu says that when speaking to them, she still finds it a major struggle to find support and backing from commissioners and other gatekeepers.
“It’s almost as if they’ve got a reading list of responses as to why they’re not going to back your show,” said Abudu. “The biggest challenge is actually getting through to the gatekeepers and to the commissioners because ultimately, they’re the ones that decide what ends up on our TV screens, and they have [apparently] decided, that people like me shouldn’t be represented on television. [How many] Black or African global shows are there, in terms of [having] the global budgets to compete? [You can’t] make a show at $1 million an episode and another at $10 million an episode and expect the former to compete with the latter. I think the industry maybe hasn’t caught up.”
Abudu laid out the business case for investing in African stories, noting that there are “currently 4 billion people in Africa” and that, by the year 2050 “one in four people in the world is going to be African. The median age on our continent is 19. We have the youngest population on earth and they need to see concepts that speaks to them. There is a market there. This is not a charity case.”
Abudu noted the global success of shows like the Nigerian thriller The Black Book, which topped Netflix’s global charts following its Sept. 22 release, as a sign that the world may be waking up to the entertainment potential in Africa.
“It tells you that our stories can travel,” she noted. “We saw, with the success of Squid Game, how Korean content is taking the world by storm. African content is beginning to do the same. So I wonder if the commissioners are just choosing what they want [to see] or what the audience actually wants?”