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Owning The African Narrative

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South African filmmaker and producer, Kutlwano Ditsele, takes pride in re-telling the African narrative in a way that empowers and represents the continent as progressive. There’s also always a twist in the plot.


“A Japanese man on holiday with his wife in South Africa falls in love with a…”

An incomplete idea is stored and filed away in the digital pages of a smart phone.

The author is not only a creative director but also the co-founder of South African production company, Seriti Films.

By merging his passion for celebrating African stories through film and television with entrepreneurship, Kutlwano Ditsele’s story is on its way to a happy ending.

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He debuted his career as a filmmaker with a music video for South African mega-star AKA in 2010, shot in the heart of Johannesburg’s Central Business District.

The initial production cost was a humble R20,000 ($1,360). 

A serendipitous bicycle race on a Sunday afternoon saved them from paying heavily to close off certain main roads and public areas downtown, during the filming of the music video.

Ditsele recalls the silence and how the emptiness edified the aesthetics of AKA’s song, Victory Lap.

An artist owning the streets of the country’s economic and financial hub for a day, even if it is by chance, opened a world of opportunities for Ditsele, who was propeled into the limelight after the video.

Today, ideas constantly fall on his lap, even when he is on the move.

As he scrolls through his phone, he stumbles upon a never-ending list of ideas he forgot existed (such as the one at the beginning of this story). With surprise, he recites various plot lines.

“Crime family show, three sisters and a kid brother with a grandmother… Whenever I am on a train, plane, car or even a jog, a small idea will come into my head,” he says. 

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Kutlwano’s relationship with film goes back to when he was eight years old; setting up a make-shift cinema for his cousins at their family home in the mountainous parts of Rustenburg, in the North West province.

Despite limited resources (television and electricity), what little exposure they had to the enchanting effect of those screens would inspire the young Ditsele and his cousins to re-enact those scenes, with him assuming the role of the director.

“Your responsibility is for that single mother who wakes up at 4 o’clock in the morning, who has to get water outside, boil that water, get the kids’ food ready, get on a train for an hour or two to be the first to get into the office and having to leave at three or four o’clock, to sit in front of the television at eight in the evening, to forget about her problems for the hour,” he says.

Intellectual property is a commodity in the local film industry that leaves filmmakers like Ditsele working twice as hard to build a name and fix the misrepresentations that were previously normalized before African filmmakers had the means of production. Globally, the industry has created more opportunities for black filmmakers.

In 2005, Ditsele was awarded the opportunity to study at the New York Film Academy.

The cultural exchanges he shared with students from Singapore, Indonesia, China and Brazil taught him that filmmaking is not only about learning in class but exploring one’s environment.

Learning in Hollywood placed him in a privileged position when he returned to South Africa in 2008.

“Your responsibility is for that single mother who wakes up at 4 o’clock…to forget about her problems for the hour.”

He took it upon himself to re-tell the African narrative by documenting positive representations of the continent. However, this becomes a tightrope walk for local film producers who need to ensure their work has commercial appeal.

A contemporary challenge is that story-tellers, like Ditsele, have to compete for a seat in the mainstream industry.

“It is more about the African narrative other than just the South African narrative. I think that it is hard for us to ignore that the biggest propaganda machine, America, is in the films. How we view America is from everything they have done.

“Aliens are coming, and America will save them (humans). They have told this incredible narrative about themselves and it has gone out into the world. The narrative around Africa has been quite the opposite. A narrative of poverty, jungle, primitive and they keep telling that narrative and they shy away from progressive stories,” he says.

The filmmaker highlights that although the local industry developed over the last 25 years, the number of those waiting in line remains high, and those who fortuitously manage to float to the top and become brands are few and far between. 

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Despite being behind the camera, Distele says there are industry inhibitors that prevent creatives from owning their intellectual property.

In a bitter twist of irony, many local stars who are celebrated far and wide will die without a cent to their name to the extent that their families are forced to crowdfund for burial costs.

“What you create is owned by someone else and they can make as much money as they want. I think it is wrong because Picasso should decide how much his painting is worth, not somebody else,” he says.

A simple idea, like the 2018 South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA)-nominated production, The Herd, achieved immense commercial success as the story lines are often merged with the topical issues of the day. 

For Distele, South African productions about love, power and wealth are an example of how the production company keeps the African narrative relatable to all viewers. For instance, the plot twist of a young girl thrust into power in a modern world; cultural ceremonies are portrayed in a way that the millennial audience can immerse themselves in.

The proliferation of social media and digitalization has given the audience agency to comment in real time and engage and be critical of the content given to them and directors like Ditsele are paying close attention.

Entrepreneurs

Leaving Airplane Middle Seats Empty Could Cut Coronavirus Risk Almost In Half, A Study Says

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A new research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that blocking out the middle seat on airplanes could cause the likelihood of passengers being infected with coronavirus to drop by nearly half, just as some airlines are starting to book flights to capacity again.

KEY FACTS

  • According to the MIT paper (which has not been peer reviewed) the chances of catching coronavirus from a nearby passenger on a full airplane when all coach seats are filled is about 1 in 4,300.
  • However, those odds drop to 1 in 7,700 when all the middle seats on board are left empty, the paper states.
  • Taking into account a 1% mortality rate according to the statistical model, the likelihood of dying from a coronavirus case contracted on a plane is far more likely than dying in a plane crash, which has odds of about 1 in 34 million, the paper stated. 
  • In “Covid-19 Risk Among Airline Passengers: Should the Middle Seat Stay Empty?” the author of the study, Arnold Barnett, wrote that his analysis aims to be “a rough approximation” of the risks involved in flying during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • “The airlines are setting their own policies but the airlines and the public should know about the risk implications of their choices,” Barnett told ZDNet this week.
  • The paper comes just as more flight carriers, like American Airlines, begin booking flights to full capacity despite surges of the virus across the country. 

KEY BACKGROUND

The coronavirus pandemic has been disastrous for the travel industry, and has especially hurt airlines. Major American carriers including American, Delta and United have asked employees to take buyouts and early retirement, Forbes reported, in a bid to cut costs as the pandemic causes them to bleed cash. United Airlines warned this week that it could be forced to furlough 36,000 jobs, or nearly half of its American workers, starting in October if travel doesn’t pick up. In April, the airline estimated that in the first quarter it lost $2.1 billion pre-tax, Forbes reported, and was losing $100 million a day in the last half of March. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in May he expects a major airline to go out of business in 2020 as a result of pandemic pressure.

NEWS PEG

American Airlines announced two weeks ago it would begin booking middle seats again starting in July, although the carrier will allow passengers to switch from a full flight without any extra cost, Forbes reported. United is also selling tickets for middle seats. American Airlines took flak earlier this month when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted a picture of his crowded flight

WHAT TO WATCH

If airlines continue to extend their policy of keeping middle seats blocked off or if they’ll be forced to book to capacity to turn a profit. Southwest and Delta have both committed to keeping their middle seats blocked off until at least the end of September, while JetBlue will do the same through July, according to the Washington Post.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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