Netflix, the global streaming giant, is no new name in the world of entertainment. The platform has absorbed many African talents and films in the past few years. Recently, the platform announced adopting a Kenyan TV Show, the first of its kind.
How it Started
‘Country Queen,’ as the TV drama is known, is the brainchild of 10 Kenyan scriptwriters. The scriptwriters came together in late 2017 to create a telenovela that would later live in the thoughts of many ‘rent-free’.
Among those curating the visual storytelling are the producer and filmmaker Kamau wa Ndung’u alongside executive producers Ravi Karmalker, Waltraud Ehrardt, and Peter Obrist. The initial TV show concept was from the three German executive producers before they outsourced the Kenyan screenwriters and producers.
Despite the enthusiasm and ambitions of the party, they had no budget for the casting and production. The team further conducted a 10-week workshop in preparation for the film and brainstorming. The creative workshop resulted in a change from a telenovela to a series direction.
The flip was mostly influenced by the difficulties that come with outsourcing funding for a telenovela. In addition, there was a budgeting issue. The telenovela was also supposed to be a daily show, which complicated the matter even further.
At the end of the workshop, the team had already come up with a third rough draft for the pilot episode and a character manual. Nine months later, the team reunited to review and fine-tune the rough draft for a shooting script. The process took an additional two months to complete.
The casting process, held at the Kenya National Theatre in 2018, attracted over 150 upcoming and renowned actors and actresses for tryouts. The auditions attracted names like Melissa Kiplagat (lead actress), Nini Wacera, Melvin Alusa, Blessing Lung’aho, and Sheila Munyiva.
Once the casting was complete, a fortnight-long camera acting workshop followed to make the actual shoot even more intense. The first episode was shot towards the end of January 2019. It featured 52 crew members, 50 actors, and 160 extras.
The first episode was directed towards helping in outsourcing funds, a process that took two years. Some of the biggest investors were Deutsche Welle Akademie, with Netflix funding footing some percentage.
Outsourcing for funds took the filmmakers to the Festival Series Mania, France, in 2019 and Berlinale, Berlin, in 2020. The search also extended to financiers in the Kenyan industry in the 2019 Kalasha International Film and Television market.
What it’s About
‘Country Queen’ is a TV drama narrating the ordinary Kenyan citizens’ fight against corporate power threatening the destruction of their homes and livelihood.
The series is set in Kenya with a focus on the broader issues around exploitation and land-grabbing, and the impact these issues have on the relationships and lives of the protagonists and their surroundings.
The TV series is shot in Nairobi, Murang’a, and Machakos counties. Melissa Kiplagat stars as Akisa, the lady leading a comfortable city life away from her sleepy village. However, her dark and complicated past catches up with her, triggering a series of events with dire consequences.
According to Netflix, “A Nairobi event planner returns to her village after 10 years, where she confronts her past — and a mining company threatening to destroy her home.”
The film also features Melvin Alusa–a former Big Brother star, Nini Wacera, and Blessing Lung’aho to portray the result of the collision between the past and the present.
The TV series combines both Swahili and English in exploring diverse themes like rural-urban conflicts, capitalism, betrayal, and love. The series also spans culture, love, inter-family relationships, commitments, leadership, and traditional intersection. A more prevalent theme is the pursuit of ambition in conflict with loyalty to culture and tradition.
In summary, Country Queen portrays the fast-paced and dangerous modernity of city life and the slow-paced rural life of the Tsilanga community. Eco-Rock, a renowned mining company, disrupts the peaceful Tsilanga village with its eye on its gold reserve. This sparks a conflict with the local community, attracting rebellion.
‘Country Queen’ Dropping
According to the producers, the TV show will showcase the unique combination of cultures, perspectives, and characters from East Africa. The producers anticipate the premiere that gives them the chance to show the African story and what it could mean for Kenya’s film and TV industry.
The first season of the telenovela, with six episodes, was completed in April with a $1.3 million budget tag, according to The Nation. The anticipated Kenyan TV drama is set to premiere on July 15th this year.
However, the producers didn’t make much from the deal due to the low Kenyan market. The Kenyan subscription on the American streaming service is very low. Thus, Netflix’s allocation budget for Kenya is lower compared to that of Nigeria and South Africa.
Nonetheless, this marks a new beginning in the Kenyan film scene as the move opens the international market for Kenyan-made films.
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