In the last one year, streaming giant Netflix has doubled down on its Nollywood engagement, increasing the number of Nigerian films available to stream on the platform. In an exclusive chat with YNaija earlier in the month, Netflix Africa executives Dorothy Ghettuba and Ben Amadasun highlighted the company’s interest in the Nigerian market. The result of this has been an expanded catalogue that is certainly impressive for sheer quantity.
However, a glance through the titles still highlights the work that needs to be done in order to deepen engagement with present and potential subscribers. Inclusion is all well and good but if Netflix is genuinely interested in presenting Nigerian stories to the world, then context is key. So is an appreciable sense of history. In terms of the licensing arrangement, there are films whose continued exclusion from our Netflix catalog, gives off the impression that the curation hasn’t carefully studied the Nigerian film industry in depth.
But we are here to correct that.
With COVID-19 restrictions keeping theaters closed, and many people turning to streaming for their entertainment needs, now is as good a time as any for Netflix to excite subscribers with the finest of local content. Some of the films on this list are must see classics and have earned their place in the canon while some are buzzy new titles, victorious at international film festivals or arriving with high commercial appeal. Taken together, they present a snapshot for what Nigerian film has been like in the last two decades and chart a course for what the future looks like.
A. Potential originals?
The five films in this category are yet to be screened in theaters and could fit well into the platform’s Originals family.
Premiering in the Forum section of the Berlinale this year, Eyimofe is really a double bill -. two separate stories about tangentially linked individuals who live in Lagos but dream of life across the ocean. Divided into two chapters, titled Spain and Italy, representing the countries where the central character in each story dreams of migrating to, Eyimofe uses this burning desire, expressed by the two leads – a middle aged electrician and a much younger bartender- as a crutch to detail the interiority of what it means to be born and raised in Lagos. Talk about Nigeria to the world.
La Femme Anjola (TBD)
Few movies have been as hotly anticipated as La Femme Anjola, the long-awaited reunion of Rita
Dominic and director Mildred Okwo. La Femme Anjola’s controlled ambitions and visual design have the feel and likeness of a genuine game-changer. Okwo has been vocal about being heavily influenced by the neo-noir genre of ‘40s and 50s Hollywood while conceiving the project. The Tunde Babalola scripted thriller centers plot elements of greed, betrayal and desperation, all universal concepts that can easily travel to other territories. What more could Netflix possibly want in an original?
The Lost Okoroshi (2019)
Many discovered Abba Makama’s debut Green White Green when it was licensed on Netflix. This
suggests the platform is familiar with Makama’s work and should be able to accommodate the zany
energy of his sophomore effort, The Lost Okoroshi. A fast-paced, hectic romp through the city of
Lagos, The Lost Okoroshi embraces abstraction as it considers identity, displacement and the forces –
both physical and supernatural – that keep human beings grounded. The Lost Okoroshi debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and has screened at home at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF).
The Man Who Cuts Tattoos (2019)
After bowing quietly at the London Film Festival, and screening at the AFRIFF, Michael Omonua’s feature length debut seems to have cooled off. A shame considering Netflix will be a fine home for this brilliant, subversive arthouse drama. Unashamedly feminist, The Man who Cuts Tattoos is also a coming of age story that follows the lead Michelle (Valerie Dish) as she fights her way through heartbreak, and disappointment. The two women at the core of the film must determine how far they are willing to go in the name of love and if any of it is worth it.
Walking with Shadows (2019)
Directed by Irish filmmaker Aoife O’Kelly and adapted from the 2005 novel by Jude Dibia, Walking with Shadows deals with the universal and entirely relatable struggle for acceptance. Indeed, the film’sexistence feels like a quiet act of resistance, considering that Nigeria still criminalizes same-sex relationships in 2020. Gorgeously lensed and tenderly observed, this quiet, intensely intimate character study is boosted considerably by the lived in, committed work of the lead actors, Ozzy Agu and Zainab Balogun. Walking with Shadows is produced by Funmi Iyanda’s OYA Media and premiered at the London Film Festival.
B. License them now
These 15 films have all seen theater action and should be licensed asap.
Perhaps the finest Nollywood film of the last decade,‘76 deserves to play in the big leagues where the best of world cinema gathers. Adopting historical events as background for a young marriage’s ultimate test, ’76 is perhaps the most complete piece of work to hit cinemas in a long time. Speaking to the Nigerian experience, all the effort put in, and money spent is displayed on screen. The acting is (mostly) rock solid and the technical achievement is stunning to observe. Movies do not have to be perfect to work and this one is proof.
The Amazing Grace (2006)
Shot on 35mm film, The Amazing Grace is one of Nigerian cinema’s most prominent attempts at crossing over to an international audience. Directed by Jeta Amata, The Amazing Grace is an interpretation of an account of British slave trader John Newton’s voyage to Nigeria in 1748 and his transformative experiences which led him to renounce the slave trade. Newton is credited for writing the classic hymn, Amazing Grace but Amata’s film argues that his composition was drawn from a Nigerian tune.
Black November (2012)
Jeta Amata’s long-awaited Nollywood/Hollywood collaboration had a troubled production and while the finished product is no masterpiece, it does come with its own merits. Inspired by true events that
occurred in Amata’s native oil-rich Niger Delta region, Black November impresses with its sprawling cast (think Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Akon) and do-gooder intentions. The film opens with a hostage crisis in a Los Angeles tunnel, unfolds in flashbacks to protests in the Niger Delta and boasts of countless face-offs and righteous tirades.
For CaTCH.eR, the second feature length by Walter ‘Waltbanger’ Taylaur, the director returns to the seedy underworld that made his 2015 feature-length debut, Gbomo Gbomo Express, so instinctively appealing. CaTCH.eR is many things at once. A proper police procedural, clever whodunit, tame domestic drama, and edge-of-your-seat thriller. The attraction for the young actors ld by O.C Ukeje must have been the chance to work with Taylaur, a filmmaker who with a soft focus on style and action, is setting himself up as one of Nollywood’s thinking men.
The Ghost and the House of Truth (2019)
The Ghost and the House of Truth marks the second collaboration between elite producer Ego Boyo and director Akin Omotoso. The slow burn drama tackles the scourge of missing children and Omotoso goes for emotional and mental violence as opposed to gratuitous physical scenes. A profile on empathy and a study on crime, reconciliation and the darker side of humanity, The Ghost and the House of Truth says as much with images as it does with words. It is a compelling, aching piece that devastates, uplifts and shines a light in hidden corners of the human experience.
The Journey of an African Colony (2019)
Adapted from two books, Possession and A Platter of Gold, both published by historian Olasupo
Shasore, The Journey of an African Colony is a tour de force that chronicles decades of Nigeria’s
history, presenting the findings and observations in a manner that is educative but never didactic.
Directed by BB Shasore, and narrated by Olasupo, The Journey of an African Country is well
researched, with Shasore’s scholarly integrity shining through as he presents bits and nuggets of history anew, redirecting attention to the tragedy of the history academic curriculum.
Journey to Self (2013)
Five close friends (led by Dakore Akande and Nse Ikpe-Etim) once inseparable during their childhood years, grow into women who rarely see each other due to the demands of work and family. When tragedy strikes, they are forced to make out time to spend one last weekend in a gigantic Abuja house. The stay becomes a revealing and life-changing experience as they are forced to address lingering issues, relive old times and reopen festering wounds.
Keeping Faith (2002)
Produced by Ego Boyo and directed by Steve Gukas, Keeping Faith is the film that predicted Nollywood’s later years fascination for telling aspirational stories of the privileged 1%. This saccharine sweet romantic comedy had the super bankable talents- and explosive chemistry- of Genevieve Nnaji and Richard Mofe Damijo. Nnaji played Nadine, an insecure young woman smarting from a breakup who considers deploying supernatural means to hold onto love. The key talents involved in Keeping Faith would all go on to enjoy successful careers.
Knock Out Blessing (2018)
For his sophomore effort, Knock Out Blessing, and first since 2016’s Ojukokoro (Greed), Dare Olaitan unspools a complex, thrilling and ultimately satisfying web of crime and consequences that is naturally, inspired by the work of top notch auteurs such as Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. The production design, sound and editing are all top notch and the acting from the ensemble that Olaitan gathers is top notch. But look out especially for the duo of Buchi Franklin and Ade Laoye.
The Lost Café (2018)
Kenneth Gyang’s second feature length is a deceptively simple story about a young woman who follows her dream to film school in Norway. Along the way she must deal with betrayal, a saucy classmate, the occasional racism and cultural displacement. To help her cope, she finds comfort and the most unusual answers to her numerous questions in a quaint coffee shop. The Lost Café plays like a dream, whip smart and concise. Gyang’s handling of the idea of magical realism in Nigerian film is nothing if not intriguing.
Two Nollywood heavyweights collided when Tunde Kelani and Funke Akindele teamed up to make Maami. Adapted from the play written by Professor Femi Osofisan, Maami is the story of Kashy (Wole Ojo,) a football hero carrying a few demons begging to be laid to rest. In deftly wrought flashbacks that are the heart and soul of the film, Kashy recalls two pivotal days from his childhood, in rustic Abeokuta, growing up with the love of his life, his mother (Akindele).
The Meeting (2012)
The Meeting comes gift wrapped as a light-weight romantic comedy but actually has much more to say. Not that there is anything wrong with romantic comedies. The screen play has a lot more layers to it than the average Nollywood fare, taking turns to explore situations, moments and characters that are not only uniquely Nigerian, but strongly universal. And don’t forget Rita Dominic’s transformative against-type performance in the role of Clara Ikemba.
The Return of Jenifa (2011)
After scoring big time with the unlikely smash, Jenifa, Funke Akindele took the leap to the big screen with The Return of Jenifa in which she updated audiences on the continuing adventures of her trademark character. The Return of Jenifa aims for no higher form of art beyond bringing out the laughs, and perhaps, teaching a lesson or two. But it was inadvertently responsible for kicking off the trend of comic skits packaged as feature films.
Considered in some quarters as the crowning achievement of Tunde Kelani’s esteemed career, Saworoide might as well be the story of Nigeria today. Written by the late Akinwunmi Ishola, Saworoide is set against the backdrop of a Yoruba community seeking to create checks and balances to prevent the excesses of the monarchy. New king Lapite (Kola Oyewo) refuses to partake in some traditional rites at his ascension setting the stage for some dramatic occurrences. Saworoide is a celebration of Nigerian culture and no proper study of Nigerian film is complete without a viewing.
Tango with me (2010)
The happiest day for a newly-wed couple becomes a nightmare when they are attacked by armed robbers and the virginal bride is raped. Genevieve Nnaji sizzles through every scene of Mahmood Ali Balogun’s romance drama. And Joseph Benjamin keeps up with her at every turn. Ali Balogun’s thoughtful directing ensures that the audiences are always tuned in to what is at stake. Mature and thought-provoking, Tango with me deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.