LONDON — Mo Abudu has at all times understood the ability of storytelling, and the affect of its absence. Rising up right here because the daughter of Nigerian dad and mom, she discovered herself being requested mind-boggling questions concerning the time she spent in Africa, together with whether or not she danced round a fireplace or lived in a tree.
“By no means was I ever taught something about African historical past,” she stated throughout a latest video name. And, on the tv display at residence, an absence of illustration of anybody who regarded like her additionally left its mark.
“It affected me in such a approach that I felt like I didn’t depend,” stated Abudu, 57, who has since gone on to grow to be the type of media mogul who can do one thing about it. “You due to this fact at all times felt a have to overcompensate by telling everyone who cared to hear who you had been.”
Many years later, Abudu is getting the whole world to hear. Her firm, EbonyLife Media, has produced a number of the largest TV and box-office successes in Nigeria’s historical past. The Hollywood Reporter ranked her among the many “25 Most Highly effective Girls in International Tv,” and she or he was invited this 12 months to hitch the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences.
And final summer season, EbonyLife grew to become the primary African media firm to signal a multi-title movie and TV take care of Netflix. The primary of these TV titles to debut new episodes in america, the Nigerian authorized procedural “Fortress & Fortress,” arrived final week. (Netflix picked it up starting with Season 2; Season 1 debuted in 2018 on the now-defunct EbonyLife broadcast community.)
In separate interviews — one by video final month from her residence in Lagos, Nigeria, and the opposite final summer season in individual, at a park close to her second residence, in north London — Abudu talked concerning the whirlwind of latest years and the challenges of constructing a media empire. It was all half, she stated, of her quest to “promote Africa to the world,” with productions which might be high-quality — and domestically made.
“I believe individuals are bored with storytelling, to a sure extent, from the West since you’re seeing the identical tales time and time once more — can I simply have one thing new, one thing contemporary?” she stated. “And I believe the likes of Netflix have understood this.”
Born in London, Abudu was despatched by her dad and mom to Nigeria at age 7 to dwell together with her grandmother in Ondo, a metropolis about 140 miles northeast of Lagos. Returning to Britain at 11, she stated, “I discovered that I grew to become type of like an unofficial ambassador.”
Rising up, Black faces had been subsequent to nonexistent within the onscreen leisure she had entry to. These she recalled had been few, together with within the Nineteen Eighties TV collection “Fame,” which led her briefly to dream of being a dancer; and within the landmark 1977 mini-series “Roots,” concerning the historical past of American slavery, which she stated left her in tears after every episode.
At 30, having loved a quick modeling profession, she moved again to Nigeria with the purpose of seizing skilled alternatives she noticed opening up in her motherland. Finally, she labored her approach as much as turning into the pinnacle of human assets for Exxon Mobil, however she couldn’t shake an ambition she had felt since childhood: to inform the fashionable story of Nigeria to itself, and in the end to the remainder of the globe.
With no expertise within the trade, she purchased an Oprah Winfrey field set, enrolled in a TV-presenting course and drew up a marketing strategy, happening to ascertain the primary Pan-African syndicated day by day talk-show, “Moments With Mo.” She quickly earned herself the unofficial title of “Africa’s reply to Oprah.”
Alongside the way in which, sure obstacles proved cussed. Abudu confronted discrimination on three fronts, she stated: “You face inequality and racism for being Black. You face it for being African. You face it for being a lady. It occurs at each cut-off date.”
At each level, she overcame. As Abudu was considering her rising position in a altering media panorama, a visitor on her chat-show couch had some significantly inspiring phrases, she stated: Hillary Clinton, who on the time of the interview, in 2009, was the secretary of state.
“I stated to her, ‘The stereotypical Africa is illness, despair, destitution, deceit — why is that?’” Abudu stated, paraphrasing the conversation. “And she or he stated, ‘Mo, increasingly more voices like yours have to be talking on behalf of Africa.’”
Abudu’s takeaway? “For those who don’t take the accountability to vary the narrative, if you go away your storytelling to another person, then you possibly can’t blame them,” she stated.
By 2013, “Moments” had made Abudu a family identify in Nigeria. Seeing alternatives, Abudu went full Winfrey and began a Pan-African tv community: EbonyLife TV. In 2020, Abudu’s umbrella firm, EbonyLife Media, deserted its TV channel to give attention to a mannequin primarily based on partnerships with a number of the world’s largest streamers and studios.
Right this moment, together with what Abudu described as “over 30 offers” but to be introduced, EbonyLife Media has contracts with Sony Photos Tv, AMC and Westbrook Studios, the manufacturing firm based by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
“I’ve been knocking on these worldwide doorways from Day 1,” she stated, “however you already know, individuals weren’t able to hear.”
Firstly of EbonyLife TV, in 2013, the mission centered on life-style programming that showcased the booming, cosmopolitan continent of the twenty first century. However Abudu has been step by step flexing her muscle tissues and broadening her artistic palette.
“Fortress & Fortress,” which Abudu co-created and government produces, is a couple of Lagos legislation agency run by a husband and spouse, whose respective circumstances threaten to destroy their marriage. With that collection, Abudu wished to give attention to authorized points that had been particular to Nigeria. In a single episode, for instance, “there’s a case round lesbianism,” she stated. “It’s really nonetheless unlawful to be in a gay relationship in Nigeria.”
Different initiatives embrace a TV drama from Sony Photos Tv concerning the historic all-female West African military often known as the Dahomey Warriors; the dystopian collection “Nigeria 2099,” set to debut on AMC; the Netflix Unique movie “Oloture,” launched final 12 months, which explores human trafficking and compelled prostitution; and the 2022 movie “Blood Sisters,” additionally for Netflix, which depicts drug habit and home abuse throughout class boundaries in Nigeria.
“What unites them,” Ben Amadasun, Netflix’s content material director in Africa, stated about a number of the Netflix titles, “is Mo and her EbonyLife crew’s distinctive capability to painting the realities of the on a regular basis Nigerian and convey a singular perspective to every character.”
Among the many different productions underway with Netflix is an adaptation of “Demise and the King’s Horseman,” the 1975 play by Wole Soyinka, the primary African to win the Nobel Prize for literature; in addition to an adaptation of the Nigerian creator Lola Shoneyin’s novel “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.”
“I’m an enormous admirer,” Shoneyin stated in a video name from her residence in Lagos. Shoneyin had turned down a number of affords of adaptation since “Secret Lives” was printed in 2010, she stated, however Abudu “actually type of wooed me.”
“It was crucial to me that the story is advised first by an African who I knew would perceive the e book and the characters nearly instinctively,” Shoneyin added. “But additionally as a result of I wished the story to be advised within the custom of African storytelling.”
Given Abudu’s angle and ethic, she actually match the invoice.
“Gone are the times whereby you possibly can force-feed me solely American content material,” Abudu stated. “They don’t personal all of the tales to be advised on this world. They’ve had their fair proportion of telling them.”
Abudu has made Nigeria her base and her focus to this point, however she is just not constricting her horizons. (Already, she employs about 200 employees members throughout her Lagos organizations, which embrace the EbonyLife Artistic Academy movie college and EbonyLife Place, a lodge, cinema and restaurant advanced.) She additionally desires to inform tales from South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia.
That may very well be excellent news for the remainder of the continent. Finally, she stated, she would really like her predominant contribution to be an “whole ecosystem of storytelling” — producing jobs for everybody from digital camera operators to costume designers — whose productions can showcase African manufacturers and expertise to continents past.
She hasn’t dominated out a transfer to america. But when she does, it’s only a means to an finish — in a subject the place she has already made nice strides.
“I’ll by no means be misplaced to my roots,” she stated. “It’s not potential, even when I’m residing and dealing and inhaling Hollywood; they can not have me to a degree whereby I’m ever going to overlook the place I got here from.
“I believe it’s vital, as a result of by me making that transition, I’m taking a complete bunch of individuals with me on that journey.”