Creators from the continent: 5 African filmmakers to watch

In a world where movie directors from North America, Europe, and Asia have dominated the box office and major awards, Black directors who hail from Africa have recently made important strides in the film industry. 

Blitz Bazawule, who helmed Warner Bros. Pictures’ award-winning 2023 musical “The Color Purple,” became the first filmmaker from Ghana to direct a theatrically released movie from a major Hollywood studio. At the 2024 Academy Awards, two of the Black first-time Oscar nominees were African directors: Moses Bwayo (originally from Uganda and currently based in Los Angeles) was nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film, for co-directing National Geographic’s “Bobi Wine: The People’s President.” Misan Harriman (born in Nigeria and currently based in London) received a Best Live Action Short Film nomination, for directing Netflix’s “The After,” a drama starring David Oyelowo as a grieving rideshare driver who witnessed a tragic event. Here are five African directors to watch with acclaimed movies releasing in 2024:

Bolanle Austen-Peters 

Bolanle Austen-Peters. Photo credit: Netflix
Bolanle Austen-Peters. Photo credit: Netflix

2024 movies: “Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” and “House of Ga’a”

The biopic “Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” was released in Nigeria on May 17. Netflix will release the biopic “House of Ga’a” on a date to be announced.

Interesting facts: Born and raised in Nigeria (her birthplace is the city of Ibadan), Austen-Peters has a penchant for directing drama films that are about personal or government politics. “Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” is about the famed educator/women’s rights activist who died in 1900 and is the movie’s namesake. Iyimide Ayo-Olumoko, Kehinde Bankole, and Joke Silva portray Ransome-Kuti at different stages in her life. “House of Ga’a,” set in the 18th-century old Oyo Empire, is based on real events in the life of Bashorun Ga’a, the notorious prime minister who enthroned and dethroned kings for his amusement. The “House of Ga’a” cast includes Femi Branch, Mike Afolarin, Funke Akindele, Toyin Abraham, Ibrahim Chatta, and Dele Odule.

Austen-Peters does not have the typical filmmaker career background because she started out as an attorney working at the law firm of her father, Emmanuel Afe Babalola, a senior advocate of Nigeria. She has a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Lagos and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Austen-Peters became part of the entertainment industry in 2003, when she founded Terra Kulture, an arts and culture complex in Lagos, Nigeria. Terra Kulture has a private theater, film production studio, art academy, bookstore, restaurant, and art gallery. In 2013, she launched Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions and directed productions such as “Saro the Musical,” “Fela and the Kalakuta Queens,” “Motherland the Musical,” “Death and Tshehe King’s Horseman.” She made her feature-film directorial debut with the 2019 family drama “The Bling Lagosians.” Her previous films include 2021’s “Collision” and 2022’s “Man of God.”

Interesting quote: Austen-Peters commented on “Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” in an Instagram message posted on May 17: “Making this movie, showing this movie, and distributing this movie in and of itself is a story worth talking about. This movie shows us the strength that lies within us as Nigerians. It shows us the stuff that every Nigerian is made of. It shows us the strength of a woman, it shows us that united we can take over the world.”


Baloji poses for photographers at the photo call for the film "Omen" at the 76th International Film Festival, Cannes, southern France, Monday, May 22, 2023. Photo credit: Daniel Cole, The Associated Press
Baloji poses for photographers at the photo call for the film “Omen” at the 76th International Film Festival, Cannes, southern France, Monday, May 22, 2023. Photo credit: Daniel Cole, The Associated Press

2024 movie: “Omen”

Utopia released the supernatural drama “Omen” in the United States on April 12.

Interesting facts: This Congolese-Belgian filmmaker’s full name is Baloji Tshiani, but he is known professionally by his first name, which means “sorcerer” in Swahili. He was born to a Congolese mother and a Belgian father in the Congolese city of Lubumbashi. When he was a child, Baloji moved with his father to Belgium after his unmarried parents split up. Baloji won the New Voice prize at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival for “Omen,” the first feature film that he wrote and directed. The movie is about a Congolese man named Koffi (played by Marc Zinga), who has been living in Belgium, and who returns to his Congo homeland to confront his family, native culture, and damaging superstitions. “Omen” was Belgium’s official Best International Feature Film selection to be considered for the 2024 Academy Awards, but the movie ultimately did not get an Oscar nomination.

Baloji is an accomplished musician and occasional actor. Baloji was known as Balo when he was a founding member of the Belgian hip-hop group Starflam from 1993 to 2004. As a member of Starflam and as a solo artist, he has released albums and EPs, although he did not compose the music score for “Omen.” Before making “Omen,” Baloji wrote and directed the 2018 short musical film “Peau de Chagrin – Bleu de nuit” (for which he composed the music and lyrics) and the 2019 short hallucinogenic drama film “Zombies.”

Quote to remember: In the production notes for “Omen,” Baloji commented on how his first name affects his identity: “I’ve finally accepted that maybe my name is also what I am. In Congo, I learned that originally, my name means ‘man of science,’ so it comes from something positive. It wasn’t until colonialism came into the picture that the word ‘baloji’ turned into something negative. So now I can deal with it. And when I started making movies, I decided to put some magical realism into them. It’s part of me, so it must be part of my cinema language.”

Mati Diop 

Mati Diop. Photo credit: Troy Harvey, A.M.P.A.S.
Mati Diop. Photo credit: Troy Harvey, A.M.P.A.S.

2024 movie: “Dahomey”

MUBI will release the documentary “Dahomey” in the U.S. on a date to be announced.

Interesting facts: This rising filmmaker has dual nationalities, since she was born in France but she was raised in Senegal and France. Her Senegalese father is musician Wasis Diop, and her French mother is Christine Brossard, an art buyer and photographer. “Dahomey” won the Golden Bear, the top prize at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival. “Dahomey” explores questions about whether or not France should pay restitution for art stolen by French colonialists from Dahomey, a former African kingdom that was located from the 1600s to 1904 in the region that is present-day Benin.

Mati Diop’s academic background includes study at Le Fresnoy National Studio of Contemporary Art in France, the Palais de Tokyo, and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She has made several short films as a director. She has also been an actress in movies, with credits such as 2008’s “36 Shots of Rum” and 2022’s “Both Sides of the Blade.” Mati made Cannes Film Festival history in 2019, when her feature-film directorial debut, “Atlantiques,” became the first movie directed by a Black woman to be selected to compete for the Palme d’Or, the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize. “Atlantiques” won the Grand Prix (second prize) that year. In 2024, she and Senegalese filmmaker Fabacary Assymby Coly launched the Dakar-based production company Fanta Sy, which is focused on African cinema and has “Dahomey” as the company’s first release.

Interesting quote: In a May 2024 interview with Deadline, Mati Diop had this to say about the purpose of Fanta Sy: “Above all, the idea is to listen to the uniqueness of each person we work with and to encourage them to forge their own vision. … I’m not interested in producing a film in Senegal that tells our stories, but is shot in French or English, without an African main cast.”

Mandla Dube 

Mandla Dube. Photo credit: Netflix
Mandla Dube. Photo credit: Netflix

2024 movies: “Heart of the Hunter” and “The Harlem Hellfighters”

Netflix premiered the action film “Heart of the Hunter” on March 29. History Channel premiered the documentary “The Harlem Hellfighters” on Feb. 4.

This year, the South African director made Netflix history, when his action spy thriller “Heart of the Hunter” (starring Bonko Khoza) became the first African movie to debut at No. 1 on Netflix’s English-language movie chart. “Heart of the Hunter”—based on the novel of the same name by Deon Meyer, who wrote the film’s screenplay—is the first movie in a milestone three-picture deal that Dube has signed with Netflix. He is the first South African director to have this type of Netflix distribution deal, according to a Netflix press release. Dube previously directed Netflix’s 2022 action film “Silverton Siege” and several episodes of Netflix’s South African drama series “JIVA!,” which was on the air from 2021 to 2023. Dube recently signed a lucrative deal with Industrial Corporation of South Africa to finance his next six movies. He is also the founder of the production company Pambili Media.

Dube was born in Mabopane, South Africa, and went to Clark Atlanta University, where he majored in film and communications. Early in his career, he worked in production on music videos for artists such as OutKast, Ice Cube, Da Brat, and Biggie Smalls. He was an assistant cinematographer on the 2003 remake of “The Italian Job,” directed by F. Gary Gray. Dube made his feature-film directorial debut with the 2016 biopic “Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu” about the notable anti-apartheid activist. More recently, Dube directed the History Channel documentary film “The Harlem Hellfighters” about the 369th Infantry Regiment (originally formed as the 15th New York National Guard Regiment), a predominantly Black group that would become one of the most renowned military units of World War I. “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts is the narrator and one of the executive producers of “The Harlem Hellfighters.” 

Interesting quote: In an April 2024 interview with Okay Africa, Dube expressed his thoughts on the impact that Netflix has had on African filmmakers: “It’s good for decolonizing the narrative of who we are as far as our identity is concerned. It feels great to claim that space. What Netflix has done, they’ve revolutionized access for world cinema. We’ve now been given a loud hailer to say, ‘Hey, we exist here, and we can tell stories!’ Nobody knows our story better than us.”

Ramata-Toulaye Sy 

Director Ramata-Toulaye Sy poses for portrait photographs for the film "Banel & Adama" at the 76th International Film Festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2023. Photo credit: Scott Garfitt, Invision/The Associated Press
Director Ramata-Toulaye Sy poses for portrait photographs for the film “Banel & Adama” at the 76th International Film Festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2023. Photo credit: Scott Garfitt, Invision/The Associated Press

2024 movie: “Banel & Adama”

Kino Lorber will release the drama “Banel & Adama” in the United States on June 7.

In 2023, this Senegalese-French filmmaker became the second Black female director to have a movie selected to compete for the Palme d’Or, the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize. She was at the festival for “Banel & Adama,” a romantic drama that she wrote and is her feature-film directorial debut. The movie tells the story of a married couple named Banel (played by Khady Mane) and Adama (played Mamadou Diallo), who live in a remote village in northern Senegal.

Born and raised in Paris to Senegalese parents, Sy studied screenwriting at La Fémis and graduated in 2015. As a screenwriter, her previous feature-film credits are both dramas: 2018’s “Sibel” and 2019’s “Our Lady of the Nile.” She directed the 2020 short film drama “Astel.”

Interesting quote: In the production notes for “Banel & Adama,” Sy comments in a statement: “I am happy and especially proud to be part of this young generation of African filmmakers. Especially since in recent years, the narratives are evolving: Mati Diop and Jean-Luc Herbulot have begun to change things by playing with the codes of genre cinema. Cinema, and art in particular/general, is becoming more and more important in Senegal and in Africa. And this is an extremely exciting development for the continent because there are still many stories to tell, many forms and genres to explore, and above all: many works to create.”

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