JOHANNESBURG — Four years after they first arrived at Mipcom with a catalog of South African films, the duo behind AAA Entertainment found themselves landing their biggest sale to date with an unexpected buyer: the Chinese.
The Johannesburg-based sales and distribution company signed an agreement with Huace Group to bring five South African features into the Chinese market, signaling a potential shift from their traditional focus on North American sales.
“China will probably surpass [the U.S.],” says head of sales Mayenzeke Baza, noting that deep-pocketed buyers are both acquiring blocks of content and paying well. “It’s an exploration for them. But they’re putting money on the table.”
For a growing company that’s established a niche among American urban entertainment networks and acquires Nigerian titles for Netflix, the sale was the first sign that a vast, untapped market for their African catalog might lie to the east.
“Only a limited number of American titles find theatrical distribution in China,” says head of acquisition Pascal Schmitz, pointing to the baroque censorship laws and quota systems that continue to hamstring the studios.
But in a sign of the geopolitical times, and what he sees as a yearning for “anything that promotes cultural cohesiveness” with the continent, “they have open doors for Africa.”
There’s a long history of mutual interests between the two regions, dating back to the independence movements that swept across Africa in the 1960s, which China ardently supported.
The courtship has gathered steam in recent years, with state-backed enterprises engaged in vast African infrastructure projects and more than a million Chinese said to be living on the continent. African resources have powered the growth of the Chinese economy, while the country has returned the favor with billions of dollars’ worth of loans and investments.
For Schmitz, the experiences of Chinese traveling and living in the diaspora – as well as a younger generation consuming foreign content online – is reshaping the way they look at the continent. “When they come back, they have more affinity for African content than for European content,” he says. The company is hoping to put that theory to the test as it negotiates a limited theatrical release of its dance film, “Pop, Lock ‘n Roll.”
As AAA prepares for the AFM, where its sales line-up will include a host of popular South African romcoms like “Mr. Right Guy,” “Keeping Up With the Kandasamys,” and “Happiness is a Four-Letter Word,” the company is already looking ahead to MIP China next year, where it hopes to build on strengthening ties with the host nation.