Country Queen director Vincent Mbaya: "Our stories can cross borders" | Film and Development | DW | 27.03.2024
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Moving pictures, changing perspectives

Country Queen director Vincent Mbaya: "Our stories can cross borders"

Almost two years since the release of "Country Queen," the first Netflix series from Kenya is still garnering accolades. DW Akademie spoke to director Vincent Mbaya about its impact on the region.

The drama series "Country Queen" was the first Kenyan series on Netflix. Filmed and set entirely in the country, the DW Akademie-supported production was the top-ranked show in the country for weeks and has been streamed around the world. Dealing with issues that Kenya faces today from a Kenyan perspective – such as corruption, exploitative mining and child labor – the series was recently nominated for the Grimme Prize in Germany. 

DW Akademie had the chance to speak with director Vincent Mbaya from "Country Queen" to discuss the series and what a project of such a scale has meant for the Kenyan film sector. 

DW Akademie: It has been almost two years since the premiere of "Country Queen." Looking back, how do you feel about the project today? 

Vincent Mbaya: I’m amazed at the amount of attention it still gets, in terms of both new and old audiences. And how many times it gets referenced. It has been an amazing run since we did "Country Queen." It has opened a lot of doors and created a lot of opportunities. For the actors and crew, it is still doing its magic two years on. Of course, the steam has died down at home, but on the international stage, people are still getting excited. 

What are you most proud of from the series? 

Being able to tell an authentic Kenyan story and for it not just to be shown locally, but globally. And to take a very Kenyan story outside of Africa and still get such a strong response. It also really showcases the skills and talents of the people who are working behind it. I think, for me, that’s what I’m most proud of. 

You said it led to a lot of opportunities for the cast and crew. What kind of doors did it open for your personally?  

After "Country Queen, " I worked with Ravi Karmalker from Good Karma Fiction [German production company from Country Queen] again on Chaguo, which is also available on Netflix. We are also working on a couple of ideas for TV series. We want to focus on more explicit German-Kenyan connections and maybe even film something that takes place in both countries. I have also worked with a lot of the crew again, including producer Kamau Wa Ndung’u and the director of photography Andrew Mungai. 

What were the biggest lessons you learned? 

The first was the power of a good team. It is so important to have a crew with the right mental and creative attitude toward their work. We created a bond and became a kind of family within the creative team. Second, realizing that stories can be from a Global South perspective and can still cross borders and be interesting to Global North audiences. Much of the series is set in the Kenyan countryside, yet people really related to it around the world. It became clear to us that if it works for local audiences, then it makes the project easier to travel, because that means it is genuine.  

For Kenyans, it has become a light on the hill, so to speak, that creatives can look at and aspire to tell stories of this level and scope. Yet we need to tell these stories as authentically as possible. 

Vincent Mbaya stands in a field in Nairobi, Kenya

Vincent Mbaya (left) has gone on to film a variety of projects in and outside of Nairobi

And what have been the international reactions to the series? 

Overall, very positive. When we were making it, we didn’t necessarily have global audiences in mind. We were simply telling a story and the audience I had in mind was a Kenyan audience. Yet I did have a chance to see international audiences at the Seriencamp festival in Cologne, Germany. We screened it in a theater, and just being there and watching the audience, we got to see the kind of impact it had. One woman was in tears. She explained that she really related to the main character.  

Then, of course, there was recently being nominated for the German [Grimme] prize. It is so great to know that people have responded so strongly to the series and that people had a chance to see what rich and high-quality stories we can produce in Kenya that also appeal to audiences abroad. 

The series can be screened on Arte in Germany and France and on Netflix around the world.  

Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), DW Akademie professionalizes and qualifies filmmakers in the creation, production and distribution of films and series. ​ 


Alex Bodine (interview) 

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