Kemi Adetiba’s ‘King of Boys’ is a feminist love letter to Nigerian women

King of boys

Kemi Adetiba’s sophomore project King of Boys is many things, from political quasi-thriller to a work that is tart, macabre, maximalist and acutely self-aware. Odds are, you are yet to come across a bad review. So permit me to officially kickstart the movie’s award campaign – AMVCA, AMAA, the whole bloody shindig. Critically, King of Boys can’t be analysed away from its feminist backdrop and Adetiba makes it look accidental but it’s not. In her oeuvre since helming 2016’s The Wedding Party, you would find King Women, an interview-based series that received great reception for probing into the lives of powerful, successful women in entertainment, the media and beyond.

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It’s the title, King Women, that showed Adetiba’s creative impulse for designating her female subjects with masculine identifiers. In the era of social media-obsessed millennials calling themselves kings and queens, Adetiba is turning gendered language on its head. In King of Boys, this signature sharpens into a blunt force. Our protagonist Eniola Salami (Sola Sobowale) leads the pack in a bold, feminist fantasia where women are fully evolved beings and do what they want; the patriarchy be damned. Some of the movie’s brightest moments are loaded with subversion – the scene in which Amaka (Sharon Ooja) walks into a restaurant/bar while Kitan (Ademola Adedoyin) and his friends are drinking still rings in my head. After Kitan tells the waiter that he intends to pay for whatever she orders, Amaka sends the waiter back to let Kitan and his friends know that she is going to pay for their drinks.

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The scene makes a mockery of male entitlement and the gender roles that deems men as financial providers. Helping to run the Salami empire is Kemi (Adesua Etomi), Eniola’s non-biological daughter who makes countering decisions as Eniola’s supremacy faces political-motivated threats. Toni Tones, whose Nollywood footprint screams rich, spoilt drama queen, twists herself with surprising versatility. She plays a younger Eniola with dizzying diligence, operating in the same tonal register and character complexity. But the feminist scope of King of Boys doesn’t just flatten women into a matriarchy: they are allowed to be vulnerable, insufferable, terrible, imperfect, and even angry.

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And we are experiencing that anger within our current cultural landscape. On the internet and beyond, female anger is a direct response to the overbearing framework of patriarchy and has translated into tangible outcomes: women marching in markets to protest against harassment, initiatives to combat rape culture through awareness and consent education, and the movement minimising period poverty.

In King of Boys, none of the principal female cast are subservient to patriarchal male authority and Adetiba ensures they take up space, however flawed, shaking the whole system and leaving the margins behind – because women no longer belong there.

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