State agencies miss the point on Netflix

There is consternation in the air over the launch of Netflix — the global mega online movie streaming service — in Kenya.

Saturday January 16 2016

Kenya Film Classification Board Chief Executive Officer Ezekiel Mutua at a press briefing in Nairobi on January 8, 2016. Netflix launch has instantly pitted two regulators, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) and Communications Authority (CA) of Kenya against each other over moribund anxieties that should be the least of our concerns at this point in time. PHOTO | FILE

Kenya Film Classification Board Chief Executive Officer Ezekiel Mutua at a press briefing in Nairobi on January 8, 2016. Netflix launch has instantly pitted two regulators, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) and Communications Authority (CA) of Kenya against each other over moribund anxieties that should be the least of our concerns at this point in time. PHOTO | FILE 

By ALVAN KINYUA

There is consternation in the air over the launch of Netflix — the global mega online movie streaming service — in Kenya. The launch has instantly pitted two regulators, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) and Communications Authority (CA) of Kenya against each other over moribund anxieties that should be the least of our concerns at this point in time.

To antagonise information technology-driven ideas with all their seamless attributes is to engage in utter futility. Perhaps the exuberant apprehensions expressed by the Ezekiel Mutua-led KFCB ought to be directed at educating Kenyans on the degrading effects of decadent movie content as opposed to making worthless attempts at policing what Kenyans should watch. 

Matters of content and morality aside, the two regulators are locking horns over an issue that, in my opinion, is outside the purview of their formal — even moral — oversight. Since Mutua took over, the KFCB has been all over town, flexing its muscles and blowing its horn Magufuli-style.

For a long time, most African economies have not been able to nurture industries from artistic talents, the worst hit being the would-be movie industry.

LAGGING BEHIND

In Kenya, we seem content encouraging mainly primary and high school children to recite poems and participate in pantomimes as part of extra-curricular (not co-curricular) activities. Few of the stars in these largely farcical performances progress into the movie world.

The 21st century Africa seems averse or altogether unaware of the immense benefits of investing in the film industry. Indeed, it is anathema to even talk of films and movies constituting an industry in Africa save for Nigeria that has offered the world Nollywood, the home of voodoo-dominated concerts that seem to have taken Africa by storm.

Well, there was URTNA back in the day that at some juncture seemed set to give the African film an honourable place in the continent. But that was then. The challenge now is to carefully consider the communication revolution that now defines how the world shares information and shapes perceptions and evolve ways of creating what I would call Africa’s 21st century voice. This could start with a keener review of the vast African folklore as fodder for children’s movies. You can be sure that if this does not happen, Hollywood, just as in the case of Lion King and Madagascar, will continue to harvest the African lore.

On a more solemn note, the wastage of talent and opportunity portended by the annoying nonchalance and inertia with regard to instituting film as a full-fledged industry in Africa is simply unforgivable. We complain of low absorption of our youth into jobs even when such youth are brimming with talent yet do nothing to provide enabling environments to harness such aptitudes and endowments.

However, no such transition can ever take place unless policy-makers are involved. A deep understanding of the existing gaps, oversights and misinterpretation of the role of the film in tempering of the human mind should inform such involvement. Currently, the movie sector is driven by a near-blind devotion to aestheticism otherwise referred to as art for art’s sake.

As a vehicle for ideas and ideals, the movie has an endless potential to mould mindsets that are favourable to national and trans-national goals and objectives. The opportunity for such a revolutionary shift is well within reach with the penetration of TV sets, smartphones and other handheld viewing devices increasing in both the urban and rural set-ups across Africa. Neflix is potentially a boon, not the jinx KCFB would have us flee from.