How should Mo Abudu cast her forthcoming Netflix films?

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.”


“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.

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?

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.

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