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First-of-its-kind African-Canadian film production in Calgary showcases Black talent

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WATCH: In the midst of a world-wide civil rights movement and a pandemic, an innovative production team is breaking new ground. As Jill Croteau reports, the first-ever African Canadian drama series is being filmed right here in Calgary – Oct 26, 2020

It isn’t something anybody had ever thought was possible: a predominantly Black cast and crew filming a drama series in Calgary.

Sylvester Ndumbi runs Simba Creative. He is the producer of a unique TV series called The African Family that follows a “young African-Canadian woman, who recently sponsored her husband from Angola, discovers the truth about their marriage.”

“We’ve always believed there’s a lot of talent in Calgary,” Ndumbi said. “I haven’t come across anything as close to what we’re doing in Canada.”

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The production is mobilizing a diverse cast and crew showcasing Black talents.

“Our industry was destroyed during the pandemic so we thought let’s do something to keep busy, but the first time we saw the cast together and watched how the crew responded, we thought we can’t do this half — we have to go all the way,” Ndumbi said.

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Director Bukky Abaniwonda said she’s privileged to work with this calibre of talent in Calgary.

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“Canada is my home, and I want to make something here. I don’t want to go back to Nigeria because there’s no opportunity,” Abaniwonda said.

“Black talent don’t have to go anywhere else; it’s here in Calgary. It’s a dream come true.”

On location at a home in Legacy.
On location at a home in Legacy. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

Ndumbi and Abaniwonda together have invested $200,000 into the economy with this series, employing 50 people, supporting local businesses and getting catering from local restaurants to help offset COVID-19 struggles.

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“We partnered with so many small businesses and generated economic activity to provide us lunch and dinner and for many restaurants that haven’t seen that kind of traffic and activity at once. It means a lot to them,” Ndumbi said.

“Being able to partner with someone else with the same mindset who wants to see growth and amplify Black voices, that’s an opportunity,” Abaniwonda said.

The actors involved said they don’t take it for granted.

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Nikita Kalonji is the lead actor and wants the film highlighted as any other movie.

“I know the narrative in film and media, and they will default to a Black film. That’s the vocabulary. It’s Black actors and not just actors and maybe we can try and change the dialogue,” Kalonji said.

“I get the opportunity to represent the Black community and my family and myself.”

Obaro J. Erome-Utunedi is also in a lead role and is grateful for this opportunity.

“Usually, Black roles I find are limited or typecasting, and to me, I wanted more and something like this I never envisioned it was possible,” Erome-Utunedi said.

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“It’s nice to be a part of — I don’t want to say revolutionary but I’m hoping it’s something the public will take to.”

Cast and crew on the set of “The African Family.”
Cast and crew on the set of “The African Family.”. Jill Croteau/Global Calgary

The production team plans to make a network pitch for the six-episode series sometime in 2021 in hopes of debuting on screen in September.

“I can’t wait to show Calgary and Canada what we have,” Ndumbi said.