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Shaping A Market: In Conversation with Mo Abudu (Berlinale Series Market)

Festival Coverage (English only)

EbonyLife CEO Mo Abudu had always been drawn to creating more complex stories that speak to Black culture. Film and television have given her the means to shift the narrative away from negative tropes and stereotypical programming.

In conversation with Manori Ravindra, International Editor for Variety UK, Abudu shared the EbonyLife story so far and some of what's to come.

Speaking at the EFM Opening Session (Embracing Change for the Industry of the Future) before this conversation, Abudu said that rather than complaining about problematic programming, she had sought to make the change that she hoped to see happen. This informed the establishment of her company's film arm and the focus on youth-oriented content within four key sub-genres: afro-history, afro-politan, afro-impact and afro-futurism.

A number of factors have been crucial to the studio's success. Persistence and perseverance have paid off and so has plucking up the courage to contact gatekeepers, while staying prepared for the many opportunities that arise for Afrocentric programming. For Abudu, it is therefore of necessity that EbonyLife productions are of world-class standard.

Taking charge of the narrative is an equally important element of how she works and she tells of her joy in getting to work with black female gatekeepers in her company’s slate of deals with the likes of Netflix, Sony Pictures Television, Universal Pictures, Will Packer Productions and Westbrook Inc.

Pointing out the absence of a truly black creative economy in the UK, Abudu talked about creating programming that has historical and socio-cultural relevance in a contemporary context. She cites as an example an upcoming project with BBC Films about the looted Benin bronzes.

Getting all those deals has not been easy, Abudu said, but things have gotten easier since EbonyLife now has a proven track record. “The change has been in the acceptance that we have stories to tell.”  However, true change becomes evident when EbonyLife is not the only actor out there, she said.

She described her studio's production process as "having the best brainstorming sessions with the best minds in the room." Their aim? To tell two kinds of stories: local for local and local for global.

EbonyLife is also involved in organising free capacity building programmes. These are aimed at sustaining the industry’s needs and ensuring that anyone with the drive and passion can get a good, affordable start in areas that include scriptwriting, cinematography, sound design and production design.
“We need to build skills and it has to be free in order to avoid creating a roadblock for others. [...]. There has to be continuity. [...]we are going to be busy for a long time and I’m not going to stop thinking of story ideas. It’s important that stories get made."

Her advice: keep knocking on those doors and always make sure that you’ve done the best job possible because industry gatekeepers are evolving and so are the stories they seek.EbonyLife CEO Mo Abudu had always been drawn to creating more complex stories that speak to Black culture. Film and television have given her the means to shift the narrative away from negative tropes and stereotypical programming.

In conversation with Manori Ravindra, International Editor for Variety UK, Abudu shared the EbonyLife story so far and some of what's to come.

Speaking at the EFM Opening Session (Embracing Change for the Industry of the Future) before this conversation, Abudu said that rather than complaining about problematic programming, she had sought to make the change that she hoped to see happen. This informed the establishment of her company's film arm and the focus on youth-oriented content within four key sub-genres: afro-history, afro-politan, afro-impact and afro-futurism.

A number of factors have been crucial to the studio's success. Persistence and perseverance have paid off and so has plucking up the courage to contact gatekeepers, while staying prepared for the many opportunities that arise for Afrocentric programming. For Abudu, it is therefore of necessity that EbonyLife productions are of world-class standard.

Taking charge of the narrative is an equally important element of how she works and she tells of her joy in getting to work with black female gatekeepers in her company’s slate of deals with the likes of Netflix, Sony Pictures Television, Universal Pictures, Will Packer Productions and Westbrook Inc.

Pointing out the absence of a truly black creative economy in the UK, Abudu talked about creating programming that has historical and socio-cultural relevance in a contemporary context. She cites as an example an upcoming project with BBC Films about the looted Benin bronzes.

Getting all those deals has not been easy, Abudu said, but things have gotten easier since EbonyLife now has a proven track record. “The change has been in the acceptance that we have stories to tell.”  However, true change becomes evident when EbonyLife is not the only actor out there, she said.

She described her studio's production process as "having the best brainstorming sessions with the best minds in the room." Their aim? To tell two kinds of stories: local for local and local for global.

EbonyLife is also involved in organising free capacity building programmes. These are aimed at sustaining the industry’s needs and ensuring that anyone with the drive and passion can get a good, affordable start in areas that include scriptwriting, cinematography, sound design and production design.
“We need to build skills and it has to be free in order to avoid creating a roadblock for others. [...]. There has to be continuity. [...]we are going to be busy for a long time and I’m not going to stop thinking of story ideas. It’s important that stories get made."

Her advice: keep knocking on those doors and always make sure that you’ve done the best job possible because industry gatekeepers are evolving and so are the stories they seek.