by Toluwanimi Onakoya
Casting can make or break a movie. The performance and credibility of actors are what make a story believable, and enables audience members to connect to a film.
If there’s a woeful cast in a massive budget movie, it sticks out like a sore thumb and ruins the reception of the movie. But a small scale movie, with less focus on production cost, high-end cameras but with powerful and compelling acting has already won the hearts of the audience.
This explains why it was no surprise when Nigerians were already discussing ‘Who plays What?’ as soon as the news reached the public that Netflix had partnered with acclaimed producer, Mosunmola Abudu, popularly known as Mo Abudu, to produce two major Nigerian classics. The project involves a book-to-film adaptation of the acclaimed literature pieces; “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” by Lola Shoneyin and Prof. Wole Soyinka’s “Death And The King’s Horseman.”
📣We’ve got MAJOR news for you today! Netflix has partnered with acclaimed producer @MoAbudu to bring you two of Nigeria’s most beloved literary classics to screens around the world! 📚🎥 pic.twitter.com/3zAE4zAndH
— Netflix Naija (@NetflixNaija) June 12, 2020
“The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives” is a beloved book for many Nigerians and there’s a unified desire for the casting to be perfect. So when Mo Abudu threw it open to the public to suggest who the cast would be, an argument soon ensued amongst Twitter users on whether or not the actors should be known faces or from open casting calls.
View this post on Instagram
Hello beautiful people For the literature lovers amongst you, no doubt you know the story of Death and the King's Horseman.😁😁 For those that do not, below is a very short brief ~ based on a real incident that took place in Nigeria during British colonial rule, Elesin, the "horseman" of a Yoruba King was prevented from committing ritual suicide by the colonial authorities. Elesin, the recently deceased king's horseman, is meant to kill himself in order to follow his monarch into the afterlife. The rest you will all find out in due course if you don’t already know 😂😂😂 Now below is also a brief of the main Nigerian characters. Who in your opinion would you like to see play these roles from the super talented array of Nigerian actors that you have grown to love. Those that in your opinion will give oscar winning performances. 💃🏽💃🏽💃🏽 They are: Elesin is the titular horseman of the play and will be in our feature film too. He's a vibrant man who loves life and, due his role as the king’s horseman has been able to enjoy it to the fullest. The "mother of the market." She has a close and friendly relationship with Elesin and, along with the praise-singer, acts as Elesin's moral compass and a conscience of sorts. Olunde is Elesin's oldest son and therefore, is next in line to become the king's horseman. The praise-singer is a man who accompanies Elesin and acts as his conscience and spiritual guide. Amusa is a native Yoruba man and he serves as a police officer for the English colonizers. A beautiful young woman engaged to Iyaloja's son. Elesin catches sight of her and decides he wants to marry her before he dies. I am excited to hear from you all 💃🏽💃🏽💃🏽 #AfricaRiseAndShine #NigeriaToTheWorld #EbonyLifeChangingTheNarrative #NetflixEbonyLifePartnership #NetflixXEbonyLife #MyAwesomeGod #MoAbuduXSoyinka
Many suggested veteran Nigerian actors such as Sola Sobowale, Rachel Oniga to play Baba Segi’s wives while others hit back saying they were tired of seeing these faces over and over again; insisting that they wanted new, fresh and upcoming actors. Contemplating the importance of casting in the success of the movie, it poses a serious question on what is the best option for the director to take; a casting call or already established actors?
View this post on Instagram
Hello beautiful people Today it’s all about The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives 💃🏽💃🏽💃🏽 . . I am so excited about making our first Netflix Original Series. We are launching with a much loved and much talked about piece of contemporary African literature by the super talented writer, Lola Shoneyin. For those that are not familiar with the story, a very brief summary is as follows; the three wives of Baba Segi are managing their seven children just fine when he takes it into his head to marry again. To make matters worse, his fourth wife is a graduate from the university, an uppity young woman who knows too much for her own good. To make matters even worse yet, she has been married for a while and she can’t seem to get pregnant. This is of major concern to Baba Segi 😓. . . I value your feedback and opinions. Who would you like to see play these roles from the most talented line-up of Nigerian actors you love and respect? Please do not forget, we need oscar winning performances o!! 😊😊 Below is a brief on the main characters: Baba Segi is the family head, and he’s an interesting character. He’s overweight, prone to flatulence, and chauvinistic. . . Iya Segi, is the first wife, she has two children. She loves to remind all the other women that she’s the first and surely the most important wife. Wife two, Iya Tope, has three children; her docile nature means Iya Segi dominates her. Iya Femi is wife number three, and she has two children. She’s materialistic and often teams up with Iya Segi to boss Iya Tope around. . . Bolanle is a university graduate and is nothing like the other three wives. Her outlook is fairly modern and progressive, and she doesn’t yet have any children. . . Taju has been Baba Segi’s driver for eighteen years. Taju is the custodian of a lot of secrets. Teacher is a mysterious character Baba Segi met in his early days in Ibadan. Teacher has become an advisor of sorts, advising on all manner of things to include sex with his wives 😂😂😂 . . Segi is young, pretty, kind and idealistic, she forms a friendship with Bolanle which her mother does not approve of. Excited to hear from you all. Please send me your thoughts on cast😊
Casting calls are expensive and time-consuming. The writer and director’s specific vision is put into focus and the search is not stalled till a perfect embodiment of the character is found. This can take months, tons of advert and a huge amount of money expended. Using established actors, on the other hand, could narrow their versatility in a role. On the upside, it can draw in buzz and an already established fan base to movie premiers and cinemas.
An instance of the challenge in open casting calls was seen in the pre-production process of Hollywood’s classic movie, “Gone with the Wind”. “Gone with the Wind” is a 1939 historical, romance film that was also adapted from a novel by Margaret Mitchell. Filming was stalled for a whopping two years because the director was determined to secure the right cast. The search for the female protagonist, Scarlett, led to auditions for over 1,400 women before a suitable “Scarlett” was found.
The movie went on to win ten awards at the 12th Academy Awards, from thirteen nominations. So, the time expended turned out to be worth it.
Similarly, Kunle Afolayan’s blockbuster film “October 1,” also took casting as a priority. The 2014 psychological thriller film, also a historical piece, found the aspect of casting challenging. However, Afolayan had a vision and did not relent until he saw it manifested.
In the movie, the character of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti posed a challenge for the him. He, first of all, conducted extensive research on the Kutis to learn about common physical features in their family. He also threw out open calls for actresses with close resemblance to the late Funmilayo Kuti, with no results. Then he stumbled upon the proposed costume designer at the time, Deola Sagoe, and saw what he was searching for. He asked her to play the role even though she had no prior film experience and she delivered marvellously.
Toluwanimi Onakoya is a spirited writer, creative and videographer. Her biggest drive is to connect with people and depict tales using various forms of media.
Toluwanimi is available on Instagram and Twitter @nimi_onaks