“Luther” star Idris Elba is joining forces with Nigerian media mogul Mo Abudu in a mission to champion representation and diverse storytelling in the global film and TV industry.
The Golden Globe winner, who is of Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian descent, will be working with Abudu to develop emerging talent from Africa through their respective production companies, Green Door Pictures and EbonyLife Media, the pair said in a joint statement Thursday.
The partnership will take a two-pronged approach: Arming students from the EbonyLife Creative Academy in Lagos, Nigeria with the skills and experience they need to flourish in a competitive industry, and producing a slate of authentic African films and TV shows for the global market.
The announcement comes seven years after Elba stood up in the UK Parliament and spoke about the importance of on-screen diversity for society as a whole. In 2020, he called for increased diversity in an essay for the UK’s Times newspaper, writing that “when things get tough, diversity often suffers” and “we have a duty to develop new talent.”
The actor, who is best known for his starring roles in the TV show “The Wire” and Hollywood movies including “Beast,” “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” and “The Suicide Squad,” wants to work with budding African filmmakers, to ensure the continent’s talent gets the attention it deserves.
“I have always been passionate about using my platform to make a positive impact,” Elba said in a statement. “By partnering with Mo, we aim to offer free, world-class industry education to the next generation of storytellers and bring their authentic voices to the forefront.”
Through her EbonyLife Media company, based in Lagos, Abudu has produced original TV shows and hit Nollywood films such as “Fifty” and “The Wedding Party.” In 2020, she signed a multi-title deal with streaming giant Netflix to create two original series and several films. The company has also partnered with TV and film companies such as Sony Pictures Television, BBC, Lionsgate and Starz.
The EbonyLife Creative Academy, launched by Abudu in 2021, provides free film and TV industry education, mentorship and production training for 480 students every year.
The four-semester-long program, which includes courses such as acting, screenwriting and sound, is open to applicants aged 18 and over and funded by a mix of government grants and private donations. After graduating, former students can hone their skills further as trainees on EbonyLife projects.
Speaking to CNN, Abudu said Elba approached her about replicating the EbonyLife Creative Academy model across the continent after seeing the impact of the original Lagos school, and the pair’s long-term strategy is to roll out another 10-15 academies over the next five years.
“We are doing something we haven’t done with any of our other partners, which is focusing on capacity-building across the continent,” she said. “If we want to ensure that we can compete globally, we have to ensure that our up-and-coming filmmakers have those skills.”
Elba described his collaboration with Abudu as “a step towards creating a more inclusive and diverse media landscape, one that represents the voices and experiences of Africa and its Diaspora around the world.”
Abudu told CNN she recognizes the power of film as a tool for positive change and believes that collaborating with Elba is “another step in the right direction” in helping build and foster authentic representation.
“There are stories that need to be told and I am pleased that together we can build a beautiful slate of projects that we can take to these streamers and broadcasters and we can say ‘Listen, the time is now.'”