The rise and rise of queen of blockbusters Omoni Oboli
She was on vacation, and she still is, when news came from Toronto, Canada that her newest filmic offering, Okafor’s Law, has been selected as one of the eight Nollywood films to feature in the special spotlight series of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), dubbed ‘City to City.’
This is the 8th year for the programme, which showcases filmmakers living and working in a selected city, regardless of where their films are set. Only eight films out of the dozens previewed made the line-up for the programme, and Omoni Oboli’s Okafor’s Law and seven others, including Abba Makama’s Green White Green, Daniel Oriahi’s Taxi Driver, Izu Ojukwu’s 76 and 93 Days by Steve Gukas were announced last week as the films that will be the reason why Nigeria’s flag will be hoisted at full mast at the 41st TIFF from September 8 to 18, this year.
It was an elated Omoni who called from abroad to say how excited she was to have her fourth effort (Being Mrs. Elliot, The First Lady and Wives on Strike were the first, second and third) as a producer and director play, not just on any international stage, but on the stage of one of the worlds most prestigious film festivals.
“Wow! Lord, I thank you. This is so much in one year,” she said excitedly. As if counting her blessings, she added: “My directorial debut (Being Mrs. Elliot) was a hit; my second (The First Lady) shattered box office records, the third (Wives on Strike) was a blockbuster, and this fourth one, Okafor’s Law (starring Richard Mofe Damijo, Ufoma McDermott, Tina Mba and Yvonne Jegede) that has not even been released has started making waves up to a selection at an important film festival like Toronto…
“It can only be God. It can only be God,” she muted repeatedly. A disarmingly humble actress, writer and later-day producer and director, Omoni’s rise up the rung of movie production in the country is not hard to explain. The New York Film Academy-trained digital filmmaker and French graduate of the University of Benin has shown over time that she is remarkably versatile.
Although best known as an actress and indeed blessed with a captivating screen presence, the decision of the Mosogha, Delta Sate-born leading performer to join the exclusive club of movie directors has proven that with hardwork and determination, one can hit the right mark and maintain a steady lead.
A devoted disciple of the motion picture vocation, Omoni’s professional acting career commenced nearly two decades ago as an undergraduate with a beatific performance in the urban telling Not My Will. Although she had a few cameo performances, like when she was cast as a maid in Shame, it was with Not My Will, and later, Another Campus Tale, that the old girl of Delta Technical High School showed stuff as an actress. Born in Benin and raised on the grounds of the Delta Steel Company (DSC) in Aladja, Omoni was in her first year in the university when she joined Nollywood.
However, she took a break after she bowed to the superior argument of her course adviser, who maintained then that her involvement in the movie might affect her grades.
Omoni faced schooling, graduated and got married thereafter. She had her first baby, travelled to London and came back almost 10 years after her debut in Nollywood.
She struggled to find a space when she returned fully to Nollywood, but an encounter with the prolific scriptwriter and producer, Emem Isong, turned the dice positively for the star of Rivals and Sweet Tomorrow, one movie she still considers her most challenging. Emem it was who invited her to star in the urban telling Unfinished Business. She had what critics roundly described as a compelling performance in that movie and since then, Omoni has not looked back.
She has eared the alias of ‘queen of all moments’ and has become one of the distinguished actors in the Nigerian movie renaissance.Star of several big budget flicks, including The Figurine, Anchor Baby and Render to Caesar, Omoni’s movie pouch is surprisingly ‘lean’ for an actress of her stature. Unlike many of her peers who boast of taking part in 2,000 movies and even more, she has only starred in about 50 films. And she said it is deliberate.
“No, I am not the kind of actress that jumps from set to set. Because I write scripts, I know a good script when I see one. “So, I just don’t want to be associated with just anything. The script is important for me,” she explained.A truly inspiring woman, elegant and friendly with a large heart, Omoni delights greatly in the dignity of womanhood, a reason she said she would never be caught playing nude in the movie. Also, she makes no secret of the fact that she has continued to appear stunning, even though she has visited the maternity ward thrice.
You ask her the secrets and she replies with a girlish smile: “I watch what I eat and I exercise a lot, even though I wish there was a way you could just eat whatever you like without adding so much weight.” But what has been her staying power? “God and the passion for the job,” she replied, adding: “I think it is the fact that God is on my side and then, I have a passion for the job.
“I keep on, even when it doesn’t look good, because I know where I am going and I am not going to stop until I get there. “So, it is God, the passion and a great family that the Almighty has blessed me with.”
A happy mother, wife and by all measures a fulfilled woman, Omoni is married to Nnamdi Oboli, an Optometrist and gentleman, whom she credits for being her strong pillar of support. She said of the father of her children: “My husband is incredible. Every day, I say to God that I don’t know what I did to deserve someone like him.
“He is so supportive. My husband will sometimes take leave off work to take me somewhere and support me and be with me. He loves the art and he is very supportive.”
Omoni has one last word on Okafor’s Law and the journey to Toronto: “I want to thank God for this window of opportunity. It shows that hardwork really pays and there is no alternative to hardwork other than more work.
“I look back now and I am happy that when I got back to the industry in 2009, people welcomed me. I cannot thank the cast and crew of Okafor’s Law enough for their talent and the time they put in to make the production what it has turned out to be. “Words fail me at this time, but I appreciate you all for making out time to be on this set.
“If I have another chance to do this again, I will certainly do it again with this cast. I appreciate you all and here is calling on the federal and Lagos State governments and their relevant agencies to rally round the industry and see this as an opportunity to provide access for our films and filmmakers internationally.”