Considering A 'Game Of Thrones'-Style Series Set Within Pre-Colonial African Kingdoms...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 27, 2013 8:37 PM
22 Comments
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Illustration of Knights for the Mali and Songhai empires
I spent part of my day re-watching last season's episodes of Game Of Thrones ahead of season 3's premiere this Sunday night, to reacquaint myself with the series.

And, as I watched, it hit me: I could envision a Game Of Thrones-like fantasy TV series (likely on cable TV as well), but instead of being set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, created by author George R. R. Martin, the many stories would unfold within the several African kingdoms that ruled the pre-colonial continent, before the so-called "Scramble for Africa" in the late 1800s.

And I'm not even referring to those ancient BC empires of Egypt; we don't have to go that far into the past. Between the 1400s and the 1800s there were a number of kingdoms/empires/dynasties that ruled all over Africa - like the Saadi dynasty in Morocco, to the Sultanate of Sennar in Sudan, and the Ethiopian dynasties in the east, to the Oyo, Benin and Ashanti empires all in West Africa, to the Mutapa empire and Zulu kingdom in the south, and so on.

Each of them with their own different clans or lineages, operating under different sets of regulations, whether despotic, or more democratic, ruled by a single king with omnipotent power, or regulated by a collective of elder statesmen - and almost everything else between, with multi-national parts, varied populations and polities, all often existing under a single entity, usually via conquest.

Many of these empires/kingdoms/dynasties existed simultaneously - as contemporaries - but in different parts of the continent. 

The story possibilities are endless - like Game Of Thrones, a plethora of characters scattered throughout lands, interweaving several different plot lines, following members of the many noble tribes, the threats of invasion and conquest by other empires, the various interior battles and schemes within each dynasty, all chasing control of the throne; the mythologies, the folklore, the morally ambiguous characters, exploring issues of social hierarchy, religion, civil war, sexuality, crime and punishment, and much more. 

It's all there, ripe for the picking - or I should say, filming!

The series doesn't necessarily have to be entirely based on real-life stories. The settings, characters and plot elements could all be inspired by historical accounts, but don't have to be entirely factual. 

The stories and characters in Game Of Thrones are inspired by a very broad range of periods in European history; and the same could be done here. It'll be a fantasy series after all, so there'll be some otherworldly, fantastical elements included, which won't be in the history books.

Although I'm certainly not arguing against a series that is based entirely on historical fact either.

I'd just love to see something like this done for the screen, and of course with a similar budget, level of production values and talent (both in front of and behind the camera), etc, and released on a premium cable TV channel as an ongoing series, like Game Of Thrones.

I'd like to believe it would sell, and audiences would watch (and not just black audiences); but given that nothing like this has ever been attempted before, it's a risk that I doubt most with the resources to make something like this a reality, would be willing to take.

Just a quick thought that came to me; maybe someone will run with it... maybe not. Maybe it's already happened, or is about to happen, and I'm just unaware. If you know something I don't know, do share...
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22 Comments

  • nnnn | April 14, 2013 10:29 AMReply

    It is a good idea, but I am not comfortable with it being done by
    a non native African. Let me explain why. The Africans on the
    continent carry the cultural heritage of the common legacy
    of all black people. They have knowledge of the authentic African
    essence, where as the mentality of black people in the diaspora
    has been nurtured by the societies in which they were raised.
    When I have seen depictions of African mythology by Black people
    in the diaspora, not only have they looked caucasian, they have
    always manifested a need to answer some aspect of white man's
    physiology. The beauty in the women is Eurocentric, and they are
    therefore depicted with pointed noses and sharp chins. They
    miraculously have long hair, and if they are men, braids or dreads
    in pony tails. That is not who we are as Africans. That is not how
    we look. If this art is the result of ignorance, fine, then seek and
    be true to the education that you gain. If it is the result of cultural
    bias, you should leave our history alone. We have an identity, and the
    last thing we need is its pollution by someone trying to answer white
    culture by depicting us in ways we are not.

    Already, the drawing above talks about Knights in Songhai... What
    Knights in Africa?

  • Monique a Williams | April 4, 2013 1:07 AMReply

    Black fantasy shows have been on my mind for years. I look forward to seeing that develop, and one day contributing my own to the genre.

  • QBN | March 28, 2013 8:41 PMReply

    Hell yeah, I'd watch this. Most Fantasy movies (Lord of the Rings etc) are pure White folks, with most of the "evil" races portrayed as darker skinned people. I don't think any Western studio would fund a majority Black fantasy series though..

  • saadiyah | March 28, 2013 1:54 PMReply

    I LOVE THIS!!! One of favorite genres is fantasy and it pains me to see that there are no or very few stories that features mainly Black characters or set in places that are predominately Black. It's like no one ever fantasizes about Black/African peoples being anything except miserable, suffering, dysfunctional, or simplistic.

  • OmegaDR | March 28, 2013 11:02 AMReply

    Regardless of what currently exists in the world of Black Fiction, Fantasy/or SciFi, there's always room for more. Having read all the Game of Throne books, it's only very loosely based on European mythos, but also borrows from legends across the world and throughout history.
    Scores of highly successful novels and series within the Sword and Sorcery genre have been written from the European perspective.
    Go for it. Create your own, NEW worlds or exciting characters and civilizations. Don't let the haters destroy your vision.

  • Brother G | March 28, 2013 12:12 AMReply

    Brother Tambay,
    I did not write what I wrote to push "Sword and Soul" "African Legends," my work or any other genre. I wrote in because you started a discussion about the issue of an African Epic series being done. I thought my background in this area may impart some insight into the matter. For that to be effective folk needed to know that I am in a position to know what I am talking about beyond mere speculation and opinion. We need to move beyond that so I also wrote in to let anyone else who thinks so know that there are others like them.
    So back to the issue at hand. The white fantasy fiction genre has always been filled with lies. Lies about the true nature of living in pre- to mideval Europe, lies about who the real invaders and destroyers of nations were and lies about where the real heroes came from. In short, white fantasy fiction is crucial to the European mind so that they can be portrayed as heroes in fantasy lands because in the real world they came from Mordor and they were Sauron.
    It has always puzzled me that we don't understand how real integration works: people respect you for your self respect and then come pay for your stuff. And it has to stay in the hands of the folk who created it, or like the 70s black film renaissance (I know Sam Greenlee personally and that is what he called it) which was twisted into Blacksploitation, or hip hop which is now a minstrel show, it will be used against us.
    So for that African Fantasy to work it has to be fixed according to African culture, sensibilities and world view, not be black faced Tolkien or Martin. Then it will be embraced by the billion and a half African descended people on this planet and taken seriously like Anime, Kung Fu flicks and Bollywood films on the world stage. As you can tell, I think we have a helluva lot of work to do before we can safely see an epic like this on any screen.

  • CC | March 28, 2013 6:48 AM

    Greg, you smell that? You smell that? Controversy, bruh man. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of controversy in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that smell, the whole hill smelled like
    [sniffing, pondering] victory. Someday this war's gonna end...

    Hello Mr. Greg Walker, aka Brother G,

    I am suggesting your approach was a wee bit off-putting, but let me go back.

    I visited your blog, Milton Davis's spot and Black Science Fiction Society's facebook page. All of you have great stories. However, in a nice and respectable way, Tambay and Curtis (below) were telling you to slow your roll. In fact, Tambay said "The focus here is on TV series (or other works made for the screen) not novels." And Curtis said:

    "Looks like a pitch session for "Sword and soul" in the comments. Some of you must not be regular readers of this site. They frequently discuss novels as sources of inspiration for films and tv shows." But you failed to heed their gentler-softer touch, which lead to your come-back for the double-up. Not to mention your "seemingly" pompous approach of... as you phrased it, qualifying your ability to speak on "this" issue, which, again, was off-putting and has the smells of a sales pitch.

    Don't get me wrong, as I said, I spent over an hour at the aforementioned sites, each of which were intriguing in their own way. However, even after Tambay acknowledged you and the craft, you came BACK with a little huff in your voice.

    Now I could be wrong about this, that's highly possible, but from my perspective... not cool bruh man.

  • Tambay | March 28, 2013 12:42 AM

    I understand sir. We're good! As I said in response to your first comment below, please email me because I'm interested in hearing more about your struggles with getting your work adapted. I think there could be a story there worth further reporting on.

  • Tambay | March 27, 2013 11:20 PMReply

    I see a link must have been posted on an online "Sword And Soul" bulletin board or something. Yes, I'm familiar with the genre of novels folks. We've even written about some of the novels from the genre over the years, including "Zulu Heart," "Shades Of Mennon" and "Zulu Mech" which Wesley Snipes was adapting at one point, and others. And yes, we very much value the written word. If you've been reading this blog long enough, you'd know all of that. We're constantly pushing literary works as inspiration for films. And will continue to do so. What I just don't want this thread to become is a series of comments plugging one novel after another. We are talking about an entire genre here. But yes, a nod to the "Sword And Soul." novels; there's a listing on Amazon I believe. I'm not aware that any of them has ever been adapted to film or TV, or is currently on a sure-path to becoming realized on film or TV. So, if I'm wrong about that, feel free to enlighten me. Or instead of just naming the genre, mention specific titles within it and what stories they tell and why you feel they'd be great material for an adaptation - especially those that are in the same continuous series by the same author, like the "Game Of Thrones" franchise. I mentioned a couple.

  • Curtis | March 27, 2013 11:04 PMReply

    Lol! Looks like a pitch session for "Sword and soul" in the comments. Some of you must not be regular readers of this site. They frequently discuss novels as sources of inspiration for films and tv shows. And speaking of "Sword and Soul," they profiled Steve Barnes' "Zulu Heart" some time recently. So the literary medium isn't being "tossed" or "dismissed." The volume of literary fiction by black authors is deep and varied, which has been discussed many times.

  • Brother G | March 27, 2013 10:52 PMReply

    Greeting bro Tambay,
    As the author of "Shades Of Memnon" which was licensed by Wesley Snipes before he went in, I feel qualified to speak on this issue as one who was going through this very process. I have had conversations with my mentor Bill Duke, Snipes and a number of other very high profile folk in the industry about this. And here is my conclusion: White folk don't want to see African Glory. Struggle - yeah, tragedy - yep, unending hardship - all for it! But world class honor and glory? Oh no, no, no! Fox came at me before my first book was even published with a plantation deal and I was advised by Euzhan Palcy (who was the first to option it) not to take it because they were sure to screw it up. The conclusion I have come to is that we have to go the hip hop way, and create a dedicated fan base among or own culture before we will be respected enough to make bigger, broader deals. That is why I am overjoyed that folk like Milton Davis, Balogun Ojetade, Valjeanne Jeffers and the master Charles Saunders are out here with me creating African based, glorious stories. And as you may surmise, I am very good at attracting folk with significant star power to work with me. That is the formula: grow our own market and attach star power and we will get the ashe' to take this thing to the world stage. But no one respects you if you don't have home grown respect first. Ask Tyler Perry and his "chuch folk." That is why Hollywood came to him. I and the other authors I mentioned have got our own fan base and I am working with Jeffry Poitier (yes "his" nephew) to get that fan base an animated series based on my new book "Nimrod The Hunter." After we create this pipeline I will reach out to other authors to come aboard and together we will break this impasse. Loose fingers or a tight fist: What has the greater impact?

  • Tambay | March 28, 2013 12:06 AM

    Thanks for sharing your struggles Mr Walker. I'd actually like to hear and learn more, so if you're open to sharing further, please email me at obensont AT gmail DOT com.

  • Ruth | March 27, 2013 10:50 PMReply

    Oh my. Didn't Game of Thrones start as a book? You aren't aware of the Sword and Soul genre in fiction? There's already excellent books set in African history/mythology/fantasy by Charles Saunders and Milton Davis -- and more projects are in the works every day. Stop by the Black Science Fiction Society sometime and check out the works in progress and talk to the authors, screenwriters and artists. There's a whole world out there, already developed and ready for discovery.

  • Kirk Johnson | March 27, 2013 9:56 PMReply

    It's a great idea and this is something some people, including myself are taking measures towards. And even though the focus is on TV series or other screen media, Game of Thrones was first (and foremost) a fantasy novel written/published in 1996. Milton Davis, Charles Saunders, and many more have (and are still creating) worlds and stories that are exactly what a Television or Film would need to create such a project. Even short stories that can be expanded into ongoing projects for the screen medium. I think it goes counter to the focus of this article to dismiss and discount the literary medium as a base for such a project. If there are any producers or filmmakers also interested in this idea of African-inspired fantasy (Epic or otherwise) should read up on Sword and Soul and checkout the writers who take part in this genre. Because it all really has to start with a idea and a script.

  • Jasmine | March 27, 2013 9:41 PMReply

    I've been planning a film in this same vein for a while now. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who would want to see it

  • pdjeliclark | March 27, 2013 9:34 PMReply

    hrrrm. great idea... with one caveat (playing devil's advocate). love George RR Martin's ASOIAF novels, and am a fan of the HBO adaptation. but i'm not certain i want to see an African version of what has come to be known as "Grimdark" fantasy ...at least not yet. the tendency towards "darkest Africa" in such a storyline seems too tempting in Western hands, even black hands. one of the interesting things about GOT is that it subverts the "fantastic" notion of medieval Europe as created in high fantasy like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings--with overly clean, perfect, majestic figures and heroes. it throws all such notions into disarray, showing a gritty and terrifying side to medieval European life (even a mythical medieval Europe). there is no equivalent of that type of African fantasy on the cinematic screen. even with the aformentioned Sword & Soul of pioneers like Charles Saunders, there is nothing approaching the depth and volume of similar fantasy for Africa in the literary medium. jumping to Grimdark as the cinematic launching point for African fantasy seems like something someone should think through. my humble opinion, of course.

  • getthesenets | March 27, 2013 9:25 PMReply

    not familiar with game of thrones

    but you're talking about "Sword and Sandal" type of series..like Conan or the Hercules films?

    Has there been a Black version of these types of films released anywhere?

    I've watched or rented just about every film from Blaxploitation era and couldn't come up with anything ..other than the Pam Grier "Arena" film.

    Back in the day, I had an almost complete collection of the Budweiser "Great Kings of Africa" poster series...We lived an area with quite a few liquor stores and they would just toss those promo posters away.

  • Allain Demps | March 27, 2013 9:06 PMReply

    Good read. A series as such is in development in Los Angeles. An African guy is executive producing it, can't remember the article where I saw his name.. Not sure of the network that's going to air it.

  • Milton Daivs | March 27, 2013 8:50 PMReply

    You must not be familiar with Sword and Soul, my friend...

  • KRStyle | March 27, 2013 10:40 PM

    F him and just keep pushin'. Sword and Soul Forever!

  • TK McEachin | March 27, 2013 10:07 PM

    IMO movies based on novels are the best ones so they literary medium should not be tossed so easily.

  • Tambay | March 27, 2013 9:01 PM

    The focus here is on TV series (or other works made for the screen) not novels.

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