Denim Richards is a Hollywood actor/director and star of Yellowstone; Paramount Networks’ number 1 show. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Khumo Studios, a Botswana-based film and television production company.
In this interview at this year’s Africa Youth in Tourism Innovation Summit at Swakopmund, Namibia, the entertainment entrepreneur and also speaker at the summit, speaks to Obinna Emelike on the potential of the entertainment industry, the need for more investments and synergy with tourism, his film projects, origin, among others.
How can African destinations use film to grow their economies?
In my opinion, the entertainment industry provides opportunities to solve some economic problems, especially youth unemployment, and GDP issues, among others.
For example, I am on a film project called Yellowstone, which I consider the number 1 show in the world. We film in a small town called Derby in Montana, United States of America, with about 2,500 people.
We have been filming Yellowstone there for 5 seasons and the movie has contributed $USD 730 million in tourism revenue and 2.1 million visitors coming to the state just because of one show.
So, this is an opportunity, if more countries can begin to get involved in understanding the way that television and film work, that will greatly help the gross domestic product (GDP) as well as create tens of thousands of jobs.
In the last four years, some countries that depend on tourism have had setbacks because people have not been able to travel like before, so entertainment is filling the gap.
Why are most African economies not taking advantage of the huge opportunities in the entertainment industry?
The most important thing here is that if you don’t know how the entertainment industry works, you cannot benefit from it.
Most of Africa, leaders, countries, and the private and public sectors have been very interested in natural resources such as gold, diamonds, crude oil and all those things. But as the world begins to diversify; there is an obvious shift from those natural resources now to tech and knowledge resources.
Again, as everybody knows, the continent is the youngest in the world with an average age of between 25 years and younger. So, the next generation really cares about arts, entertainment and culture, they don’t really care that much about gold, oil and things you cannot say whether they are good or bad things.
Now, you have to meet people where they are and some of the things we do at Khumo Studios are programmes called Khumo Masters and Khumo Studies where we go around the continent, talk and teach the public and private sectors about the business of entertainment; how this can make money, how it can boost tourism, how it can boost the ecosystem and more importantly is the money you will be getting for your GDP through taxes, more people having more jobs, and if they are more jobs, they will spend and have families.
So, this is a great ecosystem that will continue to thrive.
But African countries need to understand how the entertainment industry works in order to benefit from it. Until then, the continent will keep getting less from entertainment.
What has been the impact of your projects in Botswana and Africa at large?
In Botswana, I partner with two Batswana in Khumo Studios, which is a television and film production studio, where we do original productions. We pride ourselves on telling African stories through the African lens. But more importantly, we do capacity building.
We also go to the youths and we teach this younger generation about art, entertainment and culture so that their families can also appreciate the fact that it is not just a bunch of adults playing make-believe, that there is actually a real economy and livelihood that can go with arts and entertainment.
We really pride ourselves on doing original programming like I said the African stories through the African lens. But then also we are talking to this next generation because you cannot be concerned about the future if you are also neglecting the yesterday and the now.
What impact did your participation as a speaker at the Africa Youth in Tourism Innovation Summit 2023 make?
Of course, such youthful gatherings are always worth my time. I think the participation and the summit itself made a good impact, but you will always want to reach out to more people, especially being a youth summit.
What the summit is doing is great and I am looking forward to seeing actions from all the ideas, networking and partnerships formed by the participating African youth entrepreneurs at the summit.
My interest is for the summit to put together programmes that will ensure that the youths or the younger generation entrepreneurs can actually have something tangible that they can leave with, otherwise, the summit will just turn into motivational speeches.
I think what the summit is trying to do now is to talk more about the practical elements of things. These are the things I am looking at with the KPIs going forward.
What can we do to expand the African film industry beyond the regular players?
I think we are moving in the right direction. For me, I would love for Africa to move much faster.
But you also need to appreciate that Africa is not the United States of America.
There are different cultures here in Africa, different religions, different languages and sometimes different standards.
In any industry in the world, they have quality control standards and I think that is what we really need to do. We need to identify the leaders in different countries whether; Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Botswana or Namibia, in East Africa; Kenya, Ethiopia or Tanzania.
We need to come together and have our own conference to talk about the quality control standard that we can all come together to agree upon.
I think once we do that, we will be taking off in the right direction.
What is your next project?
Right now we are doing a project called Mogapi. The project is about two families in the diamond mine industry. Botswana is known for its diamonds, but unfortunately, most Batswana do not own diamond mines.
So, we are creating a show around that and what life would be if the natural resources of the country actually belonged to the people and not to international corporations.
I also have a movie that premiered on Amazon Prime called County Line. It is also on Netflix. I am all over the place and I am also trying to diversify and do the business side more and a bit of the acting side. But I am more of a businessman than an actor.
Do you have African roots?
Yes, I do. I am based in Botswana for three years now but hail from Los Angeles, where I have been a Hollywood actor. I have African roots as well. Half of my family is from Nigeria, while the other half is from Gabon and Congo.