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Kenya’s first Showmax original is keeping real-life crimes from being buried

Actors Sarah Hassan and Alfred Munyua in a scene in Crime and Justice.
SHOWMAX
Crime and Justice is based on topics that have dominated Kenyan headlines, including femicide and domestic violence.
  • Carlos Mureithi
By Carlos Mureithi

East Africa correspondent

Kenya’s first Showmax original series is a police procedural and legal drama inspired by real-life crime stories, reviving debate and discussion around controversies that might have otherwise faded from the news.

Each of the eight episodes of Crime and Justice, which was released on the streaming platform on Feb. 22, is based on topics that have dominated Kenyan headlines over the years, including femicide, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. It follows the investigations of cases by two fictional police detectives—Makena (Sarah Hassan) and Silas (Alfred Munyua)— and also features court proceedings. Along the way, the series exposes bias and other weaknesses in the police and the judicial systems.

In the first episode, the detectives investigate the death of a pregnant university student who had been having an affair with a powerful politician, hinting at a 2018 case with similar elements. The other episodes take inspiration from crimes that have caused national outrage but remain unsolved, or that the public feel did not get justice by courts.

“It’s pretty much taking up stories that we’re familiar with, or Kenyans know, or are in the public domain, and trying to give it an artistic stroke,” Paul Ogola, who plays a prosector called Sokoro in the show, tells Quartz. “If that particular story never reached home to Kenyans, or they never comprehended it, we pretty much try to…make it look like something that any Kenyan can comprehend.”

It’s important to keep such stories alive, Ogola says, so can people are reminded that they have the right to pursue justice. “It’s the right path to a happy peaceful nation,” he believes.

Crime and Justice is a co-production of Showmax, a South African streaming service targeting Anglophone Africa, and the French studio and distributor CANAL+, which is seeking to reach French-speaking African markets. Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content, says the partnership is aimed at creating a pan-African audience for the series. A focus on African content for African audiences, Fanguiero says, ” is very different from trying to make African content primarily for a global market.”

“What’s most personal tends to be most universal,” Fangueiro says. “So hyperlocal content can still travel, but there’s a freedom in telling stories without trying to second-guess a foreign gaze.”

SHOWMAX
Paul Ogola as Sokoro in Crime and Justice.

The show builds on Showmax’s strategy to provide viewers with productions featuring local stars, in a bid to take on other streaming services in Africa. Revenue from subscription video-on-demand on the continent is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2026. Showmax has more than a dozen original productions from Africa, including Nigeria’s I am LAYCON and South Africa’s Tali’s Baby Diary. Last year, Netflix, one of its competitors, released two African original series, South Africa’s Queen Sono and Blood and Water, and has a third in the works, in addition to a few films.

Adam Neutzsky-Wulff, Crime and Justice’s Danish co-creator, co-producer and the director of its first four episodes, always wanted to make a crime show, he says, and jumped at the chance to do so when he was approached by Showmax. Basing Crime and Justice episodes on stories in media was something that he always discussed with colleagues and  business partners, he says. Observing that there are a lot of telenovelas in Kenya, “which are fantasies,” he felt it would be good “to have some stories where Kenyans could reflect themselves, adding that the show is designed “to make you think and discuss with your friends.”

Kenyan directors Likarion Wainaina and Edwin Kamau oversaw the other four episodes.

As Kenya’s first Showmax original, Crime and Justice shows Kenya’s talent and gives Kenyans a chance “to a little bit flex,” says Ogola.

“Nigeria and South Africa have great stuff,” he says. “This is an opportunity for Kenyans to pretty much just display their ability to tell good stories.”

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