Nollywood Is Home: Netflix’s Toast To Creativity And Filmmaking
In 2016, the global streaming service, Netflix, announced its presence in Africa’s most populous country with streaming on the platform of ‘Fifty’, an Ebony Life Studios film directed by the late Biyi Bandele. Four years after, in 2020, Netflix Naija was born as the company acquired the rights to Genevieve Nnaji’s 2018 film, ‘Lionheart’, and began their own commissioned projects.
Fast forward to 2022, Netflix Naija has grown a solid fanbase with an impressive portfolio of more than 200 Nigerian films streaming and several original projects, some in the work and others already released.
In the last four years, Nollywood has gone through a tremendous change and revamp with the streaming platform’s acquisition as more storytellers have taken to displaying the richness of Nigeria’s stories, culture, filmmaking and acting on the global stage. Thus, creating noticeable discourse as more quality projects are released, a testimony to the creativity and influence of Nigerian filmmakers.
This year once again, Nigeria celebrates the Netflix-cum-Nollywood partnership by highlighting its already-released and soon-to-come projects of 2022. Guardian Life sat with a few key actors in these films to discuss these projects, their roles, as well as their opinion on Netflix’s acquisition of the Nigerian film industry ‘Nollywood’.
No stranger to Netflix Naija, particularly, for her role as “Oba” in Kemi Adetiba’s 2018 political thriller, ‘King of Boys’ and its 2021 sequel, ‘King of Boys: The Return Of The King,’ Sola Sobowale has now earned a new and well-deserved title of “everybody’s sugar mummy” following her impeccable delivery as ‘Awarun’ in ‘Aníkúlápó, a Nigerian epic film directed by Kunle Afolayan.
Emulating the rich aunty role in what has grown to become the first Nigerian Netflix original film to rank number one globally, as Awarun, Sola embodies the dynamic of a powerful African woman, proud of her conquests and who knows how to make her wealth work for her.
Describing her process, she references the role of hard work in her flawless delivery of Awarun. For her, “hard work and understanding the character” are vital to her embodiment of any role, Awarun inclusive.
Not short for words in describing the film ‘Aníkúlápó’, she lists a range of them, including “fantastic, superb, fabulous”, adding that teamwork remains her favorite memory on set of this film.
Playing a vital character in ‘Aníkúlápó’, the first Nigerian film to rank first, globally, on Netflix, she feels elated by the fact that the film is based on her culture and language.
Unlike many actors, she is not one to turn off the tv when a film she features in comes on. In fact, she takes time to enjoy it, a change that she embarked on more recently. Watching herself as Awarun, she blushed, asking herself, “eh Sola is this you,” and she is just as thankful that everyone else loved the film the way she did.
Highly revered for his impressive roles in the Yoruba film industry, there is no better pick for the role of ‘Elesin’ than the actor Odunlade Adekola. As he takes his seat on stage for his interview, he wants things done well and right. Not one to shy away from a joke, he takes advantage as the interviewer shouts, “quiet people of God”, jokingly retorting, “who says they are people of God,” causing everyone to laugh.
Set in precolonial Nigeria, ‘Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman’ is an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s 1975 play ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’. The play details the Yoruba tradition of the old Oyo Empire that called for the ritual suicide of the king’s horseman following the death of the king, as the only way for him (the king) to ascend to the afterlife. Directed by the late Biyi Bandele, Odunlade notes that the film’s powerful storyline would largely account for its impressive performance following its release.
Foreshadowing tremendous achievements for the film, he says, “Elesin Oba would be the number one film on Netflix for the next five years. It is something that everybody wants to see,”noting that this was the best time for its adaptation.
As with many Netflix originals, he highlights teamwork as his favourite memory on set, taking time out to pay homage to the late Bandele, who he describes as a “wonderful director,” adding, “everything about him was so wonderful.”
An Ebonylife Studios and Mo Abudu project, Odunlade comments on the working relationship he has with them, saying, “this is the first project working with Ebonylife, and it was a great one, I really loved it, and I felt so comfortable working on this project and I look forward to work with Mo Abudu as she is a wonderful producer.”
Young, charming and jovial, Mike exudes a level of humbleness that attests to his great personality, especially after snagging a role as the lead character ‘Ishaya Bello’ in Netflix’s first Nigerian young adult series ‘Far From Home’.
He recounts the exhilarating feeling that comes with this achievement. “It is a huge responsibility to be lead on a show of this magnitude, and I thank the good people of Inkblot and Netflix for trusting me with the opportunity.”
Not so different from his character, Mike describes him as a regular Nigerian kid trying to make sense of his life, and the story follows him on this journey. Like many Nigerian youths, Ishaya tries his hardest to make the most of the unfair situation life has placed him in, and so it becomes a lot easier for them to relate to his character.
Predicting the audience’s reaction to the series, he notes that it would be a mixture of love, relatability, admiration and even hatred. But one thing for sure is everyone would find a bit of themselves or their situation in ‘Far From Home’, adding the recurring themes of family, survival and loyalty are just some of the many relatable takeaways for the viewers.
The best part of shooting this project for him was working alongside his friends in the industry. But one scene that stood out for him was his scenes with RMD.
Hence, he is surprised to hear the distinction between Old and New Nollywood. He reveals he doesn’t see it as a “new school/old school thing.”
His words: “I see it as an industry that is growing over time, and new talents are coming in as the industry grows, and definitely these new talents would meet and work with veterans that have blazed the trail ahead of them.”
Appreciating Inkblot and Netflix, he notes that they have been supportive and good to him throughout the duration of the project. Going the extra step to applaud Netflix for their wonderful contributions to the Nollywood industry, he says there has not been a better time to be in the industry than now.
Before you ask, yes, it’s Timeyin, and if you recall her impeccable delivery on ‘Blood Sisters’, you should expect nothing but the best.
After getting the chance to audition for Zina for the first time in 2020 and not booking the role, getting another chance to audition was indeed a dream come true for Genoveva.
Describing Zina, she says, “Zina puts the Zee in Gen Z.” She adds that a younger her would have loved to emulate the confidence and energy Zeena has.
Teasing Easter eggs in the film, she reminds viewers to look out for the outstanding list of actors in the series.
Expressing her excitement for her second Netflix original, she describes the experience as “life-changing” and a “dream come through”, reminiscing the journey from packing a single suitcase from London back to Nigeria to pursue her dream of telling African stories and now seeing this dream come through with two Netflix originals under her belt.
For her moving from watching the best Nollywood talents, the likes of RMD, Sola Sobowale, and Chioma Akpotha, to acting on set with them and seeing them as colleagues has been a thrilling ‘insane’ experience, one that she remains grateful to Netflix for.
Predicting the audience’s reaction to the series, she hopes that they find each young character relatable and, just like Mike, that they find a bit of themselves in these characters.
A welcomed inclusion to the Nollywood film industry, Netflix continues to empower Nigerian creativity through storytelling and filmmaking. This year, Nigeria celebrates the streaming platform’s commitment to improving the entertainment industry through filmmaking with select titles like “Aníkúlápó”, “Far From Home” and “Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman” as “we hold our breaths in anticipation for the greater things to come.”