There is something about actors interpreting roles that makes us feel seen and stirs the deepest passions.
These are the performances that had us believing this year.
10. Seun Ajayi- The Lost Okoroshi
Seun Ajayi clearly isn’t a native speaker of Igbo and his portrayal of Raymond Obinwa in Abba Makama’s mischievous romp suggests as much. But what is a little language barrier when the rest of his work as a security guard who transforms into an ancestral masquerade straddles the line between comedy and high drama so efficiently?
9. Stan Nze- Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story
There are a couple of errors that director Ramsey Nouah makes in his splashy new remake of the Amaka Igwe favorite, but casting Stan Nze in the lead as the eponymous gangster is not one of them. Nze who isn’t new to the big screens brings with him a physicality and energy that makes his interpretation of a role already made famous by Francis Duru and Okechukwu Igwe an unforgettable one.
8. Omowunmi Dada- Òlòtūré
There is perhaps one believable moment in Kenneth Gyang’s Òlòtūré and credit for this goes to Omowunmi Dada who plays Linda, a sex worker trying to drag her family out of poverty. Dada’s Linda is ordered to practice her lap dance skills. The camera pans on her face while she grinds slowly and the mixture of fear, sadness, shame and determination is written so clearly. Each emotion a desperate and silent cry for help.
7. Jimmy Jean Louis- Citation
As the villain of Kunle Afolayan’s pan-African screed against sexual harassment on campuses, Jimmy Jean Louis is immediately cast in an unflattering position. But Jean Louis, a veteran actor who tasted Hollywood success with the television series, Heroes plays the character with a depth of feeling that makes it impossible to dismiss him as a one-dimensional villain. He does this despite playing off an unseasoned lead actress and the costume department’s poor wig choices.
6. Temi Ani-Williams- Eyimofe
Ami-Williams may be new to the big screen but hers is a compelling presence, one that quietly outlines the strengths and foibles of a troubled character. Her Rosa is a struggling bartender cum hairdresser who also has a younger sister in her care. She has been denied the privilege of being young and foolish, hence every life decision for her is an economically strategic one. She isn’t above engaging in transactional sex as a means to an end, the end being to get herself and her sister to Italy.
5. Maryam Booth- The Milkmaid
Already famous in Kannywood as well as for her breakout role in 2017’s Hakkunde, Maryam Booth does some of the best work of her career as Zainab the milkmaid who becomes caught up in the Boko Haram insurgency. Booth’s forceful performance demonstrates clearly how victims become oppressors themselves when given no room for redemption.
4. O.C Ukeje- Shine Your Eyes
In director Matias Mariani’s wondrously complex Shine Your Eyes, O.C Ukeje doesn’t speak Igbo as fluently as he could but his likeable boy next door charm continues to work in his favor, riding through this inadequacy and some of the screenplay’s clumsiest moments. Ukeje’s Amadi is able to physically trace the relationship that specific Igbo cultural beliefs shares with scientific interpretations and the modern day dysfunction of São Paulo, Brazil.
3. Gambo Usman Kona- The Milkmaid
Gambo Usman Kona, an actor from the Taraba local film scene is a revelation as Dangana, an insurgent leader who becomes both husband and captor to the film’s lead. Kona’s graceful, formidable screen presence fills up every scene he appears in. His stoic resolve and thoughtful approach to his faith is at odds with the life of a religious extremist and Kona nails these dualities, nearly walking away with the entire film.
2. Anthonieta Kalunta- The Milkmaid
It may be the first time you will see the Theatre Arts graduate onscreen but it is unlikely you will forget her after this. Hers is a mix of coiled physicality and controlled emotions. Kalunta goes through every experience that her character does, imbibes, lives with them and then pours it all out on screen, sometimes with merely a sweep of her sad, soulful eyes. The eyes are alive and expressive even when her body has been beaten down and she is capable of speaking multitudes with merely a shy glance.
1. Jude Akuwudike- Eyimofe
It is true that Mofe, the character played by Jude Akuwudike in the Esiri bothers’ diptych Eyimofe gets the larger share of the filmmakers’ attention, but Akuwudike an experienced actor of stage and screen doesn’t coast on this advantage. He disappears completely and wholeheartedly into his role injecting a sensitivity and pathos that connects him, of Nigerian origin but domiciled in the diaspora with the pathos of the Lagos everyman.
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.