Alinda and Angela Ruhinda are Tanzanian sisters who have made history by producing Binti’, the first Tanzanian feature film to stream exclusively on Netflix as of January 7, 2022. Binti is a film about four women persevere through extreme hardships in Dar es Salaam, battling the complexities of love, motherhood and societal expectations.
Alinda Ruhinda is a Tanzanian theatre and film producer who received her formal education from Temple University in the U.S. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a concentration in Advertising. Alinda’s childhood was spent outside of her own country – Sweden, Canada, and China. In her teen years, she returned to Tanzania and studied there briefly before finishing high school in Nairobi and going to the U.S for her bachelor’s degree. She is half of the duo that founded Black Unicorn Studios in Tanzania. Since July 2018, Alinda has worked diligently to get the company and its projects running. Black Unicorn Studios has produced two stage plays (‘The Big 3’ and ‘Baba’s House’) and an award-winning feature film (‘Binti’). Alinda served as an executive producer on all these productions. She remained hands-on by helping shape the storytelling, budgets, marketing choices, and intricate details such as contracts and costume choices.
Angela Ruhinda is a Tanzanian writer, actor, and producer from Tanzania. Born in Canada but raised in China and then Tanzania, Angela knows what it feels like to keep moving as a child constantly. Angela started primary school in Tanzania, but she eventually attended high school in Nairobi, Kenya, where she excelled in English Literature and Drama. Angela pursued her Bachelor in Fine Arts at the University of Hertfordshire, England. She majored in Philosophy and minored in Literature and Film Studies. In 2011, Angela moved to Los Angeles to pursue a Master’s degree in Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy. She graduated in 2012 and continued to live and work in Los Angeles. In 2013, she sold a TV pilot titled ‘Iman & Andy’ to ABC, Whoopi Goldberg was attached as Executive Producer. Angela also wrote a TV movie for Hallmark called ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ and produced her award-winning web series, ‘Morning Wood.’ Angela moved back to Tanzania in 2016, and in 2018, she started a production company with Alinda, Black Unicorn Studios. Together, they produced two original stage plays (written and directed by Angela) and one award-winning feature film titled ‘Binti’ streaming on Netflix.
In this interview, our editor, Lehle Balde, speaks to the sister duo who have made film history for Tanzania.
1.Why should the world watch Binti?
The world should watch Binti because it’s a story that will resonate with everyone, especially women. It conveys the full humanity of women – how we deal with societal expectations, the pressure we put on ourselves, and how we never know what the next woman is experiencing.
2. Why was it essential to have an all-Tanzanian cast and production crew?
We had three foreigners in a crew and cast of almost 100 people, and we are very proud of that fact. We want our industry to grow, and the best way to do so is to create more opportunities for local talent and give them more work experience.
3. This is a sister-produced movie. What is it like working with family?
Alinda and I are very close, so we know what the other is thinking without saying it. Of course, we don’t always agree on ways to approach certain things, but we always make sure everyone is heard before making decisions about the business. All in all, it’s been such a wild ride, and I couldn’t imagine doing this without my sister.
4. How did you come up with the inspiration for the story? Entrepreneurship, domestic violence, infertility, and motherhood are all movie pinpoints; what is the message behind highlighting these themes?
The original story was submitted by a young woman named Maria Shoo. Her screenplay was then titled ‘Her Life.’ It was the winning script at our first MADE IN AFRICA screenwriting competition. Maria chose these particular themes because they were a part of her life in one way or another. She based the stories on women she knew. We were so touched by this story and had never seen these themes explored on-screen (especially with African women) that we could not produce this film. The message is we all need to practice empathy and realize that the next woman might seem like she has it all together, but everyone is going through something. Instead of admiring the grass on the other side, try and water your own
5) How did you go about casting?
We had an open casting call. It was open to the public. We wanted to give everyone a chance to be a part of something special. We found out that there is so much talent in Tanzania. We also had chemistry/screen tests once we narrowed down finalists to ensure that the couples felt like real couples.
6) What did it mean to you to win the best feature film at the Zanzibar film festival?
That was a special night for us! We didn’t expect to win. It was our first time having a film at this prestigious festival. We were happy to be there and be the opening film. There was a sense of validation. The trophy is in an extraordinary place, and we say ‘good morning’ to it every day.
7)How important is it for you to get buy-in from the rest of Africa? Specifically, Nollywood?
Nollywood is the largest market on the continent. As filmmakers, we look up to producers from that corner of the world and markets like South Africa. BINTI screened during AFRIFF in 2021 and received rave reviews, so we know our stories resonate across the continent. We would love for our fellow Africans to think of Tanzania and know us for our art and landmarks.
8) What were the difficulties you faced while producing this film?
Staying within the outlined budget was extremely difficult because incidents happen that you do not anticipate. Post-production was affected due to the pandemic, and it delayed our release date, and several festivals either postponed or canceled their events altogether. We practiced patience in the past two years, but it paid off in the end.
9) What does it mean for you to have your movie on Netflix?
Having our film on Netflix is a dream come true. It was always the goal; we never told anyone because we didn’t know any Tanzanian film producers who had done it. This is a big step for our industry. It means that the door is open now and more of us get the chance to tell our stories on a global platform. We’re just getting started.
10) What can we expect from you next?
We are currently developing a few new projects. We can’t reveal too much, but we hope to venture into television and produce more films within the next year or two. We have so many more stories to share!