Efforts to diversify the global television industry have fallen short, Nigerian-British media mogul Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife Media, argued in a keynote on diversity and inclusion in the global film and television industry at MIPCOM Cannes on Tuesday.
Despite the much-discussed D&I efforts from studios and streamers, Abudu says she still sees a surprising lack of real diversity on international TV screens.
“I still see very little on television that reflects me as a woman of color,” she said The Hollywood Reporter‘s co-editor-in-chief Nekesa Mumbi Moody. “You think there’s a change coming over the years, where every company has a departmental diversity and inclusion officer. But you wonder why, because the representation just isn’t there. There’s just a lot more work to be done.”
Abudu, who topped this year The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual list of the most powerful women in global entertainment, announced ahead of the 7th edition of Mipcom’s Diversify TV Awards, the only global award that recognizes the advancement of diversity and inclusivity at international media organizations.
But despite her success – EbonyLife Media has grown 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 she works with speaking to them, she still finds it a big struggle to find support and support from commissioners and other gatekeepers.
“It’s almost like they have a reading list of responses about why they’re not going to support your show,” Abudu said. “The biggest challenge is actually getting through to the gatekeepers and the commissioners, because ultimately they are the ones who decide what ends up on our TV screens, and they have (apparently) decided that people like me should not 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 one show for $1 million per episode and another for $10 million per episode and expect the former to compete with the latter. I think the industry may not have caught up yet.”
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 will be African. The average age on our continent is 19 years. We have the youngest population on earth and they need to see concepts that appeal 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 Bookwhich topped Netflix’s global charts upon its release on September 22, as a sign that the world is waking up to Africa’s entertainment potential.
“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 starting to do the same. So I wonder if the commissioners are just choosing what they want (to see) or what the public actually wants?”