This list is dedicated to shining a light on these possibly obscure series that promise a worthwhile cinematic experience.
By Helena Olori, Seyi Lasisi, and Joseph Jonathan
There is a steady rise in the number of film and series productions taking place in Africa. Top streaming platforms – Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the continent’s Showmax – passionately compete for the flickering attention of cinephiles on the continent.
This competition has led to a saturation in the African film production space, with streaming services commissioning numerous films and producing original content. This meant that regardless of how passionately you keep track of films and series production, you may have missed one or two shows. Due to how inundated the African film landscape is, with the possibility of audiences losing sight of time-worthy series, Afrocritik has curated a list of possible African series you may have missed.
These series did not get enough spotlight, as they were silenced by the buzz that surrounded the release of more star-studded and big-budget shows. This list is dedicated to shining a light on these possibly obscure series that promise a worthwhile cinematic experience. These series are available on movie streaming platforms. Curated with no intention of creating a hierarchy, this list cuts across different genres, all produced within the year.
If you’re a fan of gripping crime-action thrillers, then this Netflix gem, Unseen, deserves a top spot on your watchlist. The South African series, created by Travis Taute, nails it with its well-written dialogue, a suspense-packed plot that keeps you hooked, and stellar performances that bring the characters to life. Unseen, inspired by the Turkish series Fatma, explores the often-overlooked lives of cleaners, who are always present yet invisible in their employers’ world.
This six-episode series stands out for several reasons; it is a refreshing departure from the gratuitous violent or cringy, over-sexualised scenes prevalent in typical South African productions. Instead, it portrays crime and violence in the country more realistically, avoiding the exaggerated depictions often seen in South African productions. Gail Mabalane’s astute performance as Zenzi Mwale as she navigates the complexities of her missing husband and the dangerous criminals she encounters, and the aesthetically pleasing cinematography are worthy of your attention.
Unseen is available on Netflix.
This pulsating episodic Showmax Original crime-action drama, produced in conjunction with Canal+, is an exhilarating blend of crime, high-speed car races, and imminent danger. With the tagline “In danger lies freedom”, the South African drama introduces us to 17-year-old Ethan (Cantona James), who takes a job as a driver for the local Lavender Hill gang boss Damien (Elton Landrew) to support his family.
The plot thickens when Shane (Dillon Windvogel), the spinning crew mechanic, helps Ethan discover the potential of his driving skills. Ethan is faced with tough choices — juggling family duties and exploring his newfound spinning skill in extreme motorsport. Debuting on Showmax on November 8, 2023, the ongoing series, directed by Jaco Bouwer, (known for Gaia, 2021), has captured viewers’ attention with its storyline. It also made history as the first African series selected for the Canneseries competition.
You can catch the next episode of Spinners on Showmax this Wednesday, December 13, 2023.
African Queens: Njinga
African Queens: Njinga, unlike other series in this curation, is a scripted docu-drama which employs expert interviews. Narrated and executively produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, African Queens: Njinga explores the life of Njinga, who became the first female ruler of the kingdom of Ndongo in West Central Africa (modern-day Angola) in 1624. It spotlights her transition to power, her rule, her fight to disrupt the Portuguese slave markets, and her legacy over four episodes.
While it may have received mixed reviews, this Netflix docu-series serves as an entertaining history lesson on the lives of powerful and extraordinary African women often overlooked. The series focuses on Queen Njinga, played by British-Nigerian actress, Adesuwa Oni.
African Queens: Njinga is streaming on Netflix.
Jay Jay: The Chosen One
Showmax’s dedication to showcasing unique African stories takes centre stage in the animated series, Jay Jay: The Chosen One. This 13-episode animation reimagines the childhood of Nigerian football legend Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha, as an 11-year-old, football-loving schoolboy, Austin. Blessed by animals and possessing their abilities, he transforms into the superhero Jay Jay, who combats poachers and leads his school football team to victory.
Led by Prince Unigwe as the voice of Jay Jay, the stellar cast, including Chinedu Ikedieze (Aki na Pawpaw), Samuel Ajibola (The Johnsons), and others, breathe life into the characters. The series also features an official soundtrack by the renowned Nigerian singer, Waje. Whether you’re a football enthusiast or not, Jay Jay: The Chosen One brings back nostalgic memories of Okocha’s days with the Nigerian national team, Super Eagles, and serves as an inspiration for aspiring young football players.
You can watch Jay Jay: The Chosen One here on Showmax.
The Thembalethu Mfebe and Mengameli Nhlabathi-directed series is securely centred around the friendship of four university friends: Bonga (Thembinkosi Mthembu), Mpho (Thabiso Isaac Rammus), Eric (Nhlanhla Kunene), and Vuyani (Luthando Mthembu). In this 8-episode South African series, we are allowed entrance into the daily lives of the four friends as each traverses his personal life in Johannesburg after their university education.
Despite taking different directions and having distinct character traits and histories, what unites the friends is their committed relationship to each other. As each friend faces real-life problems, their age-long friendship serves as a therapy support system for each other. Their conversation securely sits around mental health, love, fatherhood, and the nagging pressure from society for men to succeed.
Adulting is available to watch on Showmax.
When Are We Getting Married?
Directed by Nigerian filmmaker and photographer, Diji Aderogba, the YouTube web series is a romantic comedy about a couple. The lovers, Fenwa, played by the Nigerian musician Ric Hassani, and Edith (Immaculata Oko), deal with pre-wedding related issues: sex, childbearing, tolerance, compromise, gender roles, and faith and belief.
Written by Ife Olujuyigbe and produced by Kayode Kasum and Olufemi Bamigbetan, the series enchants viewers to the daily bickering and dilemma lovers who move in together, despite having different aspirations and ideas as regard marriage. The series becomes more appealing as it progresses, and viewers are drawn, not just to the endearment between the couple but to their commitment to trample the hurdles that surface in their relationship.
When Are We Getting Married? is available on YouTube.
This South African drama series is similar to its sibling, Blood and Water, which courts political-related concerns. In the six-episode series led by Mbali (Buntu Petse), the daughter of a corrupt politician intends to flee the crush of justice and navigate life, free of her family’s privilege. The young-adult series intimate viewers to how issues of corruption are dealt with in society. That although working-class citizens suffer from the damaging consequences of politicians misappropriating public funds, the government officials’ account blossoms.
Created by Rethabile Ramaphakela and Kathelo Ramaphakela, the series captures the daily experiences of young South Africans navigating life within school settings. What makes the series an appealing watch is the irony in each episode.
Miseducation is showing on Netflix.
Supa Team 4
Created by Malenga Mulendema, a Zambian screenwriter and former journalist, the 8-episode animation series is one of the worthwhile African series that might have evaded you. Filmed across Lusaka, Cape Town, and London, the animated series Supa Team 4, follows four teenage girls living in the neo-futuristic city of Lusaka, Zambia.
Recruited by a retired secret agent to save the world, the four girls navigate their journey as school girls struggling to keep up with school activities and engaging with supervillains. The animation is a perfect blend of sci-fi, action, adventure, and comedy. It features Zambian multi-talented actresses, Zowa Ngwira, Namisa Mdlalose, Kimani Arthur, Nancy Sekhokoane, Pamela Nomvete, and House of Dragon actor, John MacMillan.
Supa Team 4 is showing on Netflix.
Everyone loves a story of humble beginnings and the relentless dedication required for success, therefore Prime Video’s Grind is for everyone. The Nigerian drama series, created by Roberta Orioma and directed by Orire Nwani, unfolds a gripping narrative centred around three women; Tarela (Roberta Orioma), Edesiri (Roseanne Chikwendu), and Tiwalade (Tamara Sindio Apaun), who navigate the hardship of achieving their dreams while working in a nightclub. Through its 10 episodes, the series intricately explores themes of family, friendship, survival, betrayal, and hope.
The narrative is further strengthened by the actors’ on-screen chemistry and believable performance, with talents like Uzor Arukwe and Chikwendu, delivering compelling performances that breathe life into the characters’ struggles. Grind is a breath of fresh air as it offers a different perspective into the lives of young women as hustlers and breadwinners – unlike what is shown in popular media.
Grind is currently streaming on Prime Video.
Beyond the Veil
2023 saw Prime Video exploring more femicentric titles with Grind, Sista, and again with, Beyond the Veil. The Nigerian drama series, created by Nadine Ibrahim and Sifa Asani Gowon, follows the lives of five Northern women, Na’ima (Jemima Osunde), Hanifa (Maryam Booth), Badriya “Baddie” (Norah Ego), Zainab “Zizi” (Ame Aiyejina), and Surrayah (Habiba Tanko Zock-Sock), as they navigate their relationships, careers, friendships, and culture.
Unlike other femicentric Nigerian productions that struggle to strike a balance between the love lives of their female characters and the independence they advocate, Beyond the Veil stands out. The series doesn’t resort to mere posturing, but adeptly keeps the focus on the women while authentically depicting their connections with men on various levels.
Beyond the Veil is available on Prime Video.
Crime and Justice Lagos
Showmax’s growing repertoire of unique African stories was further enriched with the release of a police procedural drama series, Crime and Justice Lagos. The series is a spin-off from the Kenyan Crime and Justice series franchise co-produced by Showmax and Canal+ in 2021. Created by Yinka Edward, Crime and Justice Lagos follows the operations of the fictional Serious and Special Crimes Unit with Superintendents Kelechi (Folu Storms) and Danladi (Jammal Ibrahim) as they trail variant crime and criminals in the bustling Nigerian commercial capital of Lagos, ensuring that justice is meted out.
The six-episode series shines with its simple dialogue, relatable plot, and excellent cinematography. The series tries to subtly challenge various stereotypes surrounding the police by portraying a society where crime is regular but investigation and justice is a consistent occurrence. So good was the series that it clinched two awards for Best Picture Editor and Best Television Series at the 2023 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards.
Crime and Justice Lagos is available on Showmax.
If you want a business-focused family drama filled with conspiracies, betrayals, and blackmail, then look no further than Magenta Coal. The Netflix-produced, South African drama series, follows the complex story of the Nkosi family, prominent figures overseeing South Africa’s largest coal mine, Magenta Coal. Controversy and power tussle form the basis for the story as the family matriarch, Matilda (Nambitha Mpumlwana) fights tooth and nail to protect the interests of her three children, Sandile (Senzo Radebe), Khumbulani, and Fezeka (Khanya Mkangisa) when the truth about her children’s paternity threatens to destroy their succession ambitions.
Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Richard Mofe-Damijo, Ntando Duma, Senzo Radebe, Busi Lurayi, Vusi Kunene, Khanya Mkangisa, Connie Chiume, and Desmond Dube, the series makes for an exciting watch as it explores the intricacies of running a family business.
You can watch Magenta Coal on Netflix.
Helena Olori is a talented multimedia journalist, she enjoys staying abreast with the latest happenings in the film industry and what makes the movie business tick. Connect with her on Instagram @heleena_olori or email@example.com.
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how they align with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph Jonathan is a historian who seeks to understand how film shapes our cultural identity as a people. He believes that history is more about the future than the past. When he’s not writing about film, you can catch him listening to music or discussing politics. He tweets @JosieJp3