Africa Is NOT a DUMB Audience

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Today we are talking about how dumb we think we are.

Yeah, I know you are probably thinking, ‘Umm, I’m not dumb!’

That’s cute.

And you are probably right. But then, there’s this thing that makes me think you might not be.

No, I’m not calling you dumb. I’m just saying you might think you are dumb, you just don’t know it. We are not talking the conventional dumb, although that might be debatable given the crazy conversations all over social media, but more like the ‘let’s just support local’ kind of dumb.

But then again, it could just be my standards.

The African audience is so used to not having much that we will take anything just to feel like we have something. Colonization did this to us. We are so used to settling we don’t even realize it any more. Our standards have become so low for content coming out of Africa yet we know we deserve better.

“At least it is local” has become the standard used to measure the quality of content produced here. This cuts across board. I have seen people praising a substandard lipstick that dries out you lips just because ‘it’s local’.

I’ve seen people voting to have mediocre Kenyan songs on charts just because they are local. And what does that do for the industry? It just encourages these people to keep churning out more mediocre songs.

Look at our politicians. (I don’t call them leaders. They are not.) Don’t we use the same mentality? ‘He’s our person’ (whatever that means).  Where has that gotten us? If we can notice how this fucks us up in the political space, why do we let the entertainment industry get away with it?

You’ve probably heard this before, or maybe even said it yourself.

The Kenyan audience doesn’t like complicated stuff.

Or

Kenyans won’t relate to the story.

Or

It’s too western for the African market.

Oh, or my favorite

It’s really good but can you dumb it down?

Yes, that’s the reception mostly awarded towards good Kenyan productions. Be it movies, TV shows or even music. That’s how short we sell ourselves. We limit ourselves so much because some ‘hotshot’ at a TV station claims, there’s no audience for amazing stories. Or a DJ thinks your songs can’t play in the club.

Sue na Jonnie (Kenya)

I started working in the film/theater industry back in 2010. Script writing was my jazz and I just loved being on stage. My story was a bit different from most, I got picked at my first audition. Acting gave me life but writing was where my soul resided. Until it broke my heart.

The excuses given above broke me. I can’t even tell you just how many scripts I was involved in developing only to be stopped by lame excuses about how dumb the audience was.

I know we don’t think we believe that.

Have you seen the kind of western content we consume?

The banter around our favorite TV shows?

What do you mean we can’t relate? To what? A well-developed love story? A political drama? A cop show?  A telenovela? What exactly? Because I am lost.

First part of the problem, we still want to be on TV.

It’s nice and cute to pretend that mainstream media is dead just because we have YouTube now, but I don’t believe that. There will always be need for mainstream media. If you don’t believe it, just look at how many more TV stations are popping up every year.

The introduction of streaming services should just aid in having our productions accessible to an even larger audience. Not necessarily replace mainstream media.

The biggest let down in the industry has been mainstream media. They are quick to tell guys there’s no room for content only to turn around and steal ideas with poor execution then blame the audience when they flop.

Also can I take this moment to remind you of certain shows that dominated on mainstream media while I was young?

Remember Tausi? What about Tahamaki?

Who were those shows meant for? Because I watched them and they had love stories, structure, comedy and sometimes even a takeaway.

When did we become so lazy?

The River (South Africa)

Which brings me to the second issue, writers.

Our writing has become so lazy that even the simplest of things are not tackled. It’s like everyone is using the same blueprint. Maybe Vitimbi was the worst thing to happen to us.

Don’t get me wrong, those kinds of shows were cool. Back then.

But with everything we know now, everything we are, we still can’t be chasing that.

We can’t be looking for Olivia Pope status with Papa Shirandula standards. It just can’t work.

Every show we produce can’t be another Vitimbi or Papa Shirandula. We are lying to ourselves when we have a great stories but then build it up using that old model.

When will we rethink how we write our comedies?
You can’t have an entire show where every character has a ‘witty’ (I use witty very loosely here) comeback. Where they all sound and express themselves the same way. I shouldn’t be able to see the writer. Just the characters. But I have watched a couple of shows where it’s literally a one man show. Just like tunnel vision.

Skinny Girl in Transit (Nigeria)

The stories are there, most of the time, but then we write them into the ground. Some of these shows start out well or with a great premise and then it’s like they just give up. It is like someone just throws their hand in the air and says ‘oh, fuck it!’ Sometimes the writing is so bad you might think someone surprised then with an extra episode smack in the middle of season 3.

We need to do better.

It’s not just a Kenyan thing. I have noticed it in some South African shows as well as Nigerian. I can’t speak for the rest of the continent because this is what I have access to. Between these three, it’s worse off here.

Can we stop writing for a dumb audience because we don’t have a dumb audience? We lose our audience because of dumb writing.
TV show writers and producers need to go to the theater a lot more. The content being produced on Kenyan stages is exceptional. You can see the work that goes into these productions unfold right in front of us.

Do workshops for your TV shows. Have people pitch in. Stop being so attached to a story or the idea of an audience.

If you are chasing international standards, why are you comparing yourself with those comfortable in their below average status?

Miss M.