The Tanzanian film fraternity and the industry as a whole are delighted that bintia production from Black Unicorn Studios in Dar es Salaam is screened by international streaming company Netflix.
It’s a big deal to have a production on Netflix, and Binti has put Tanzania on the world cinema map for all the right reasons. The film began airing on January 7. This closely followed the Ugandan production Girl in a yellow sweater.
bintia Swahili-language drama film directed by Seko Shamte and co-produced by Black Unicorn Studios co-owners Alinda and Angela Ruhinda, had achieved significant milestones since it first aired as the opening film of the Zanzibar International Film Festival in 2021.
It then premiered at the Jozi Film Festival in South Africa and the Pan-African Film Festival in Ouagadougou on March 8, 2020, and was eventually released worldwide through one of the largest sales networks of movies in the world.
But who are the people behind Black Unicorn Studios?
East Africa found the two sisters Alinda and Angela Ruhinda who gave birth to the production house, and in a short time gave us binti.
There is a thriving film sector in Tanzania, making productions for the domestic market, but it is every filmmaker’s dream to go international. And that was the dream of the Ruhinda sisters.
Alinda, Ruhinda’s eldest, is a theater and film producer with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a concentration in Advertising from Temple University in Philadelphia, USA. She spent most of her childhood in Sweden, Canada, China and Kenya where
Completed high school in Nairobi.
She is the executive producer of all Black Unicorn Studios productions where she shapes the storytelling, plans budgets, makes marketing choices, and handles intricate details such as contracts and costume choices.
Ruhinda’s younger sister, Angela, was born in Canada and raised in China and Tanzania. She attended a boarding school in Kenya and, following in her sister’s footsteps, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Philosophy and a minor in Literature and Film Studies at the University of Hertfordshire, England.
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 chose to live and work in Los Angeles to pursue her career in all things film.
In 2013, she sold a TV pilot titled Iman & Andy to ABC, and Whoopi Goldberg was attached as executive producer. She also wrote a TV movie for Hallmark titled Moonlight In Vermont.
She returned to Tanzania in 2016 and together with her sister Alinda established Black Unicorn Studios in 2018.
The two sisters have been working ever since to keep the business and its projects running.
They have produced two plays, The Big 3 and Baba’s House and the recent award winning feature Binti now streaming on Netflix.
Angela says they’ve always had a passion for art, film and creative industry things since they were kids.
Inspired by Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s greatest filmmakers, the two sisters were eager to bring Tanzanian art and creativity to the world, and so the studio was born.
“For a while, Alinda and I toyed with the idea of starting our own production company. We both love film and TV and we wanted to do business together,” Angela explains of how their journey in the cinema began.
“We were inspired by creatives like Nigerian entertainment mogul Mo Abudu, who left corporate life to pursue his true passion,” says Angela, enthralled by the Nigerian serial media entrepreneur.
Alinda adds that since taking the first step four years ago, they have never looked back.
“Look how far Mo Abudu has come. She had to start from scratch and we decided to do the same in 2018. We haven’t looked back since,” she says. The two took a leap of faith and recorded Black Unicorn Studios.
“We’re a very small office and we tend to hire freelancers for projects and it’s a system that has worked for us,” says Angela.
Binti was a realization of their dreams of putting Bongo films on the world map. The sisters say it hasn’t been easy, but their exposure and knowledge of the international market has been helpful.
“We have always dreamed of having a film on Netflix and we didn’t want to settle for less. It is an honor to be the first Tanzanian film on this global platform. Hopefully it will open doors for other filmmakers Tanzanians,” they say.
Binti was chosen by a distributor even before her official screening at the Pan-African Film Festival and private screenings on International Women’s Day.
” We were lucky. We found a distributor and he developed a strategy for the deployment of binti starting with the pan-African film festival. And our first big win was at the Zanzibar International Film Festival where binti was crowned Best Feature, catching the attention of Netflix officials and that’s where the negotiations started,” says Angela.
Binti was also the opening film of the prestigious annual Zanzibar Film Festival.
The Ruhinda sisters wanted full creative control of the project and opted for Black Unicorn Studios to fully self-finance Binti’s production to create a typical Tanzanian film. They succeeded.
Binti’s screenplay was originally written by Maria Shoo, who won a screenplay competition titled “Made in Africa” by Black Unicorn Studios as part of a call for original Tanzanian stories by Tanzanians.
Angela and Alinda then rewrote the script for the kind of movie they wanted.
“We had to bet on ourselves because we knew it would eventually pay off. But thanks to the success we’ve had with Binti, we’re able to get our work commissioned at home and abroad and we’re already getting offers, which is amazing,” says Angela.
The producers of Black Unicorn say they are always on the lookout for bright and competitive new talent for their projects.
Alinda says, “We try to work with the best when it comes to the technical aspect of production. Our approach to actors is different, we are constantly on the lookout for new talent. So we’re big on open casting calls.
“Everyone is welcome to try out our productions, as long as they take the work seriously. The original brain behind Binti was a first-time writer. It’s amazing how much untapped talent we have in Tanzania .
“This is just the beginning for Black Unicorn Studios. We hope you all join us on this exciting journey,” Angela says, revealing that they are working to get into television as well as producing other films.
“Not all of them will be as heavy as Binti. We would like to explore other genres and show that we can be diverse in our storytelling,” adds Angela.
“Binti” means young woman in Swahili and the film features four young women in their life struggles. The film premiered on March 8, International Women’s Day.
The stories of Tumaini, Angel, Stella and Rose, who are unknowingly linked by the personal difficulties of their lives, explore a contemporary vision of femininity, a searing introspection into the sometimes painful world in which women find themselves.
Tumaini is played by Bertha Robert Mloya, an early actress.
Tumaini, a young entrepreneur, runs a mini-supermarket making her own “chapatis” and cycling to sell eggs. She lives with her mother after her father left them 10 years ago and works hard to stay afloat. She fails.
Angel, played by Magdalena Munisi, went to school with Tumaini. But unlike Tumaini, her life seems perfect. She owns and runs a bridal shop, with the support of a seemingly loving boyfriend, who proposes to her. But the truth is, behind closed doors, Angel is engaged to an extremely jealous and violent abusive fiancé. Then there’s Stella (Helen Hartmann), who tries unsuccessfully to conceive, both naturally and through IVF. Her husband supports her even as Stella is desperate.
But that’s not the only heartbreaking story, as we meet Rose (Godliver Gordian), a mother struggling with her son in special care. She is torn between her professional life and her dedication to caring for her emotionally demanding son.