Moment of introspection: The roasting of Kenya's fledgling film industry

Kenya is undeniably stunning, yet its beauty is predominantly showcased in advertisements and by social media influencers.

Photo credit: Stanslaus Manthi | Nation Media Group

A "Roast" an event where a person or group of people are subjected to good-natured ridicule or mockery by friends or colleagues.

Kenyan movies and most TV shows tend to look and feel alike. While I could go on a rant like any other random X user about why this happens, I prefer to engage in something more entertaining, like a roast.

Today we are going to roast the Kenyan film industry. Why, you may ask?

Well, the last month we saw the roast of Tom Brady and Kevin Hart's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor ceremony, where he was also roasted. That was the catalyst.

Now, don't get me wrong. I appreciate the fact that we have something to critique, complain about, and in this case roast. Let's start from the top.



Onscreen, you draw viewers in and become the characters; onstage, you project and mostly exaggerate. Most of you wouldn't face rejection or complain about the industry being rigged if you understood this distinction.

Winning a trophy during high school drama festival is one thing, but succeeding on screen is a different ball game. As for those who have 'made it,' you often portray the same characters in all your productions, sometimes closely resembling your real-life personas.

It's as if you're typecast for the same role repeatedly across the board, resulting in portfolios lacking diversity when it comes to performances.

You guys should also take a hint from Njugush or Will Smith and aggressively market your projects, by now you know the nature of the Kenya audience.


The individuals who bring the team together and make it happen, the backbone of film production. When it comes to Kenya and other countries, I'm sure nobody thinks of “gatekeeping" when they think of producers.

If aliens were to visit Kenya and catch a glimpse of our movies, they wouldn't settle in Eastlands. Moreover, why does it look like everyone is copying each other's work? I mean, we have all seen: the talented young man from a challenging neighborhood torn between chasing his dream (often football) and joining a local gang, only to witness someone close being fatally shot by a rogue police officer, prompting a reassessment of his life. This concept is dominant on our screens in various forms, with one or two tweaked characters.

I understand that filmmaking is very expensive and while it's natural to gravitate towards lucrative genres, there are more than just two options. Crime and drama explore relatable themes, but now we are just recycling stereotypical narratives. I know it's risky, but we need to start experimenting with other genres.

On the flip side, art, festivals or "sufferation" movies, may win awards, but, they can often be melancholic and tedious. It's important to align with a cause close to your heart but can we be honest here, the majority of the audience just wants to be entertained. Social media is enough social commentary for most of us—the fish-out-of-water trope depicting rural individuals in urban settings as a concept should have ended in the 2010s.

I acknowledge that budgets can be tight, but storyboard and concept artists are as vital to your film as "uji power" is to men or "okra" water is to women.

Production teams

In terms of direction, I am yet to see a director with a distinct style, either visually, through story structures or through editing. The majority of what I see on our screens reminds me of those Maasai hand bands; they are all identical.

Drone shots have become the default establishing shot for any Kenyan production—do Kenyan cinematographers only dream of drone shots? I'm not opposed to them, but a little composition in how you choose to frame a scene would go a long way, I am tired of the same wide shot of the Nairobi skyline looking the same across all movies and TV shows.

Still on cinematography, videography is not cinematography, colour grading is a component of, but is not cinematography.

Sound design sometimes falters, particularly in post-production. While there is sound, it often feels as though most Kenyans sound teams overlook the design aspect. When was the last time you downloaded a Kenyan film score because you couldn't get enough of it?

Additionally, it's evident that social media content creators excel in identifying breathtaking locations compared to most film location scouts. Kenya is undeniably stunning, yet its beauty is predominantly showcased in advertisements and by social media influencers.


The colourful and diverse world of binge-watching, where hours meant for sleeping and resting are often sacrificed to that infamous line "just one more episode.

The concept of video-on-demand and the plethora of diverse content have transformed the simple act of finding something interesting to watch into an extreme sport.

We find ourselves repeatedly revisiting old shows and movies, drawn to productions from a simpler time, while acknowledging that much of the content offered on streaming services today feels more like checkboxes based on modern day trends than that good old story telling That's why the documentary genre is the “GOAT" it's has nothing to do with the idea that strange real life events can be very entertaining at times.

Still on the content on these streaming services, I've come to realise that as a Kenyan, I need not necessarily study a foreign language, the abundance of foreign content on these platforms is enough to ditch your foreign language classes. Yet, sporadic glimpses of Kenyan content serve as gentle reminders that they still serve the local audience.

Other streaming services seem to prioritise catering to local viewers, offering a wealth of local productions, shows, and blockbuster movies. This competition underscores the potential for growth in locally produced content, potentially leading to more job opportunities, the kind of thing the government loves to hear.

However, at the end of the day, it's all about the money. Some streaming services are sneaking in ads—foreign ads that are often irrelevant and whose products are unavailable locally, which sometimes disrupts the viewing experience with their frequency and length. It's a reminder of the bygone era of broadcast television, challenging the notion that streaming was supposed to liberate us from such interruptions.

Indeed, the future of streaming is here, but it comes at a premium price. To keep it positive it all sometimes goes back to the creators and some of these platforms actually offer creatives the space to create communities and experiment while making money.
The platform, most importantly, eliminates the dreadful (insert echo) gatekeepers.


While the streaming service are working hard on drawing in the audience, the pay TV seems to be racing to increase their price. By the way, when was the last time you watched broadcasted television?


Bloggers and film reviewers

I understand our thought processes are limited to engagement, clicks, scandals, check video on threads and clout chasers. But there is more to Kenyan entertainment than socialites and clickbait social media scandals . We need to start making Kenyan actors, crew, and producers stars. Remember, we made sprinkling salt a global trend.

Kenyan Audiences

The Kenyan audience is an interesting species. On one hand, they have made the “DVD guy” a thing, spending close to Sh1,500 per month on them. They have binge-watched close to all the shows on streaming, yet they wouldn't pay Sh1,000 to watch a Kenyan movie in the theater. On the flip side, when they decide to show up, they will go all out to support whoever they decide to support, to the point of defending their favourite person on social media everytime a scandal crops up.


In filmmaking, there's a golden rule: show, don't tell. Yet, when it comes to politics, much of it revolves around talks, rhetorics and promises.

Politics often leads people to view filmmaking merely as a means of job creation for the youth, rather than recognising it as a form of expression, a tool for sharing our stories globally, or a medium for cultural preservation.

Politics plays a pivotal role in the everyday running of our modern life, but what role can a politician play in the creative industry, In the cases of film, perhaps they could utilise the land that they allegedly grab and the misappropriated public funds to establish decent film studios across the country (not a money laundering suggestion).

Sign off

As the industry grows let's just remember that it's up to us to keep everything on track. The more we consume the more defined our productions will become. So do your part, watch something Kenyan today.

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