Lusanda Worsley of Empire and Nosipho Dumisa of Gambit films are black South African female creatives changing the landscape of the creative industry.
They have known each other for six and a half years after meeting through a mutual friend. Nosipho attended film school called AFDA in Capetown, soon after formed Gambit films which is made up of six team members. Nosipho is the only permanent female on the team.
However, Gambit film collaborates with many women writers and directors. These collaborations are always project based as the company keeps the core team small. Gambit Films core focus is Film as well as TV.
Lusanda comes from a family of entrepreneurs and has been greatly supported in starting her business by Nosipho. Gambit films provided her with knowledge, office space and things that start-ups struggle with that nobody tells them.
They talk about making the South African creative industry recognized, filmmaking, and working together as African women.
“We gel together, we stand for the same thing although we are in different industries. - Lusanda Worsley and Nosipho Dumisa Click To Tweet
Running South Africa’s first black female-driven experiential marketing agency what is your niche and what do you want to be known for?
Lusanda: Starting a business in our generation is exciting, where everyone wants to start something that provides an impact on other people’s lives.
Our unique selling point is that Empire is a platform for young African creatives to come together as a community to collaborate and execute advertising and branding for clients. The industry is male-dominated, and it really hasn’t changed over the past 20 years.
The content that is being produced for African people does not resonate with our true and rich stories. We don’t actually get to know the in-depth of our history because we don’t get to tell these stories ourselves and now is the time to do that.
Empire and Gambit films are movements, what kind of movements are they and what ideology do they stand by?
Lusanda: Empire is based on a shared economy model, we partner with different agencies; and or freelancers on specific projects. Our ideology is storytelling by Africans for Africans.
Nosipho: Gambit films started in 2009. We saw a gap in the kind of stories that were being told. There was a lack of original content, especially in Capetown. It was becoming a service industry in that we would service Hollywood and international productions.
We did not have ownership of the stories and that’s when I knew we needed to be in charge of the stories that were being told about our people. We wanted our stories to travel. However, we knew that it would be hard as young filmmakers to sell the idea so we thought let’s start our own thing and lets travel and create our own narratives.
Therefore we took charge of the stories we told through Gambit Films. In chess, a Gambit is an early move in which the player will sacrifice one of their pieces in order to gain the upper hand later on. We were the sacrifices, sometimes not even making ends meet but we held onto our vision.
We want to bring people along with us who hold the same vision, whether its companies like Empire or individuals. But mainly to see this industry grow and be more diverse.
How do you identify whom to work with?
Lusanda: Shonda Rhimes explains it perfectly to me. She talks about the “hum”. So I look for people with the hum, it is about that specific drive one has she says, “The hum is a drug, the hum is music, the hum is God whispering right in your ear.
For me, it’s quite rare finding someone with that specific drive. A drive that isn’t necessarily looking to service themselves but wants to be a part of creating something bigger.
Nosipho: People that are always taking initiative and are not waiting to be offered an opportunity. I think talent is overemphasized, one gets a lot of talented people but I look for people I like. Before we work together we need to engage and I need to feel we share the same energy, goals, view of the industry and our roles within that industry.
If I feel your energy is positive and is going to add instead of taking away, then I gravitate towards that. There are people doing things on their own despite the fact that there are no jobs. They are resourceful and want to push.
Talent is one thing when you do what we do, you are working with people and not just their talent. If someone is willing to learn and push harder than what is required that’s the kind of person I want to work with.I co-founded @GambitFilms_ so that my truth wouldn’t be filtered with someone else’s - @NosiphoDumisa Click To Tweet
Being storytellers in your own ways, what kind of narrative would you like to see out there about Africans?
Nosipho: I gravitate towards stories of survival. Stories where people have to make do and overcome any situation they are in. So this is where people who shouldn’t be making it do.
This can be from a thriller to an intense drama. A story that at the end of the day there is some hope that is being communicated, those are stories I love and would want to see more of. Stories of people’s hardships are important to portray. I think I want to see a diverse storytelling field with hope.
I have recently made a film called Nommer 37, which is a story that seems dark on the surface and can even be perceived as a horrific story, but when one looks at that characters, the couple is just ordinary people who are in a world that feels like a prison to them. The one character is obsessed with money, and the escape he assumes it will give him.
He makes terrible decisions in the process whereas his girlfriend says “if we have each other, we will find a way.” It’s in the end that he must learn this lesson.
Lusanda: We worked on a documentary series called “The Rise of us” with Gambit films. We went out in search of different people making a contribution to their communities in terms of innovation.
From an experiential point of view when a lifestyle brand comes to us and says they have something they need to launch, we look at the why and the kind of creative visuals we are going to use.
How are we going to tell a story that shares a positive light? Pitch something that just doesn’t become the brand’s campaign but their ethos. Therefore I would like to see more inspirational stories full of hope and being narrated on different mediums.
Do you think there are more African people out there who are telling our story differently?
Nosipho: I think we are starting to see a change although it is slow I see it and I have hope for what is happening. I look at the stories we are currently telling in my industry regardless of the race telling the story. I am seeing more diversity and change.
It is important to realize that it really is not an overnight process. I see improvement and I am hopeful of the future. We need to start engaging more intentionally about mentoring others who are like ourselves. Mentorship allows for representation, which therefore leads to a diversity in stories.
Lusanda: Looking at the black-owned agencies that are coming up, yes. I have no doubt we are moving into a more positive storytelling direction. I must note that we can’t expect things to happen overnight, it’s been a long process but I have no doubt we will get to where we want to be.
How are you making the SA creative industry internationally recognized?
Nosipho: Our mandate at Gambit films is to tell stories of African people for African people and also the rest of the world. Some of our short films have traveled all over the world for example in 2014 we made a short film Nommer 37.
The response was amazing and now the feature film of Nommer 37 was selected for the South by South West (SXSW) International Film Festival, in Austin, Texas, where it had its world premiere in March 2018 to incredibly rave reviews.
It is the first fully South African (as in not a co-production) feature to ever be selected to SXSW and the South African narrative feature film in any context, to be selected since “Stander” in 2003. We wanted to communicate a genre of this form and say hey we are telling stories that are authentic to us but no matter where you are from, you can identify with it and find it to be truthful to you too.
Lusanda: As a result of being part of a digital generation, the way we create and view content is most likely on digital platforms. Growing up with a global mindset, we are ready to push content that is true to Africa and to the rest of the world.