The global box office seems to have been dominated by major Hollywood blockbusters and huge superhero epics in recent years, but there is plenty of evidence that interest in a different kind of cinema remains strong.
For instance, the success of films like Parasite at this year’s Oscars perhaps hints at how many people are now seeking big-screen experiences with a more international flavour. This has also been put in the spotlight thanks to recent trends on streaming services, with a growing number of African films finding a home on one of the biggest platforms of all.
New Zimbabwe recently revealed that Sibusiso Khuzwayo’s short film The Letter Reader, which stars Bahle Mashinini and Nomalanga Shabane, is now available to watch on Netflix and Showmax.
The movie – which picked up several awards including the Shnit Worldwide Short Film Festival Best Short (South Africa) prize last year – was inspired by Mark Gevisser’s The Dream Deferred, a biography of Thabo Mbeki. Its Netflix page details how it tells the story of a small boy from Johannesburg who visits KwaZulu-Natal and starts to read letters for the villagers there.
The Letter Reader arrives on Netflix at an exciting time for African cinema and its links with the streaming brand. After all, it has hit the service shortly after Cook Off became the first Zimbabwean film to also reach the platform. The romantic comedy is another title that has enjoyed plenty of international recognition, with it being showcased at film festivals held in locations including Rotterdam, Seattle, and Cannes.
The release of the films on the service has come at a time when streaming technology is really transforming what is possible in many areas.
For example, a number of people now use streaming platforms to access their favourite music or to head online and see top stars performing. The concept is also having an impact on gaming through initiatives like Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud, while it even has a presence in online casino gaming too. As this page on popular online games in South Africa explains, live dealer experiences have come to the fore in recent years, with players taking part in events hosted by croupiers on a video stream. It adds that blackjack and roulette are two of the key games which have been adapted into the format.
However, streaming’s presence has arguably most been felt in the world of film and TV, with Netflix being a leading name in that area. The brand itself states that it has in the region of 193 million paid memberships worldwide, which means there is a huge opportunity for the likes of Cook Off and The Letter Reader to be viewed by many different people across the globe. Those films are far from the only examples of the platform showcasing productions from this continent as well. Back in May, the service announced the launch of its Made in Africa collection of content to coincide with Africa Month. More than 100 titles were included on the curated list, with it featuring film and TV created across the region as well as international titles filmed predominantly or entirely in African countries.
An exciting moment
All in all, it feels like this is an exciting moment for film-makers across Africa. Securing a position on Netflix really opens up their work to a massive global audience and, in turn, may create some intriguing opportunities.
It will be fascinating to see how both The Letter Reader and Cook Off perform in the months ahead, but hopes will be high that the pair will be far from the last African films to make the leap onto the hugely successful streaming platform.