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“A Tribe Called Judah” is a Box Office Hit, But How Did It End Up on Top? Meet One of the Screenwriters Behind the Successful Film

One of the major contributors to a film’s success is a well-written script. Meet Akinlabi Ishola, co-writer of the box-office sensation, “A Tribe Called Judah.” With a billion-naira story to his name, he uncovers the mask behind the success.
February 15, 2024
10:33 am

You’ve heard the name! “A Tribe Called Judah” has been on the tip of everyone’s lips since its grand premiere on Dec. 15, 2023. Since then, it has achieved massive box-office success in domestic and international theatres. It’s the first Nigerian film to earn a billion naira (and counting) in domestic theatres; it’s the highest-grossing Nigerian film of all time, and it achieved all these accolades in three weeks.


Directed by the multi-talented actress-turned-director Funke Akindele and Adeoluwa Owu, the film chronicles how a poverty-stricken family plans a heist to raise money for the treatment of the ailing matriarch. The heist ends up being a death match when a notorious gang shows up at the scene of the heist.


“A Tribe Called Judah,” also known by its fond abbreviation “ATCJ,”  stars Akindele as Jedidah Judah, the ailing matriarch of the Judah family who will do anything to protect her sons; Jide Kene Achufusi as Emeka Judah, the eldest of the Judah boys and a responsible father figure to his brothers; Uzee Usman as Adamu Judah, another responsible brother who loves his family; Timini Egbuson as Pere Judah, a petty thief who causes his family distress; Tobi Makinde as Shina Judah, a street urchin with a good heart; and Olumide Oworu as Ejiro Judah, the last of the Judah boys whose loyalty lies with his mother first.


Akinlabi Ishola

A key player in the success of “ATCJ” is its relatable and compelling storyline. Such a storyline can only come from a well-thought-out script. “We wanted to portray the struggles that single mothers go through on raising their children,” Akinlabi Ishola – one of the co-writers of “ATCJ” – states. Through the experience of Jedidah Judah, audiences get to see that. Beyond the “let’s plan a heist” narrative is a film that is full of social commentary. It touches on pressing issues in the Nigerian society such as the struggles in a single-parent household, poverty, the “japa syndrome,” and corruption.


“ATCJ” was written by Akindele, Ishola, and Collins Okoh. Ishola sits down with TNR to discuss the reasons behind the film’s success and the story’s impact on audiences worldwide.


TNR: Congratulations on the success of “A Tribe Called Judah.” It’s the highest-grossing Nigerian film of all time, making a record-breaking 1 billion naira (and counting) at the box office. What are your thoughts on this? Did you expect the film to be widely successful?

Akinlabi Ishola: Thank you very much. I feel elated and I’m grateful to Aunty Funke (Akindele) for bringing me on board this project. Like she (Aunty Funke) always said from the onset, “This project is divine,” and the results are a testament to her statement. Yes, I personally envisioned “ATCJ” would do very well at the box office, but not in a noticeably brief period.



You co-wrote the script with Funke Akindele and Collins Okoh. What was it like collaborating with them? How did the story come to fruition?

Working with Funke Akindele and Collins Okoh was a wonderful experience; they are brilliant minds. Aunty Funke has had the story for a while, so she shared it with us (I and Collins) last year. We collectively tweaked a few things and started working on the plot till the final draft of the script alongside her.


How long did it take to write the script?

It took us about five (5) weeks to finish the script but, long before then, we had started working on the plot.


Let’s dive into the script a little bit. We’re introduced to the matriarch, Jedidah, who is raising five sons on her own. We’re also informed that their fathers are from different tribes of the country. Why is that? And what is its significance to the film?

We wanted to portray the struggles single mothers go through in raising their children. Jedidah just happened to give birth to five sons to five different fathers. Throughout the film, we can see how Jedidah was very protective of her children and constantly showed them love.


Akindele with Ishola

When writing the script with Funke Akindele and Collins Okoh, did you craft the characters with actors in mind?

Did we craft the characters with actors in mind? No. That’s not to say it didn’t cross our minds. But we made sure we were incredibly open and wrote the story/script as we were led. Aunty Funke did the audition and casting.


Out of the Judah brothers, my favorite is Shina, played by Tobi Makinde. The reason is he’s the stereotypical street urchin, but underneath the hard exterior is a man who loves his family. What was it like crafting his character?

No matter what the wall we build to shut people out of our lives, there is always a soft spot that when poked, we realize we have lots of love to offer. That is who Shina was when we were creating the character.


One of the most talked about scenes in “ATCJ” is the death of Emeka Judah. It made me tear up a bit. Was it always the plan for him to die first? Or was it another Judah brother?

It got us emotional too when Aunty Funke told us that we had to kill one of the Judah boys, and it must be Emeka. I immediately had goosebumps. She narrated the idea to a few people and their reactions were our reaction. She said, “Yes, that’s exactly how people will not see it coming in the cinema because he is the sweet brother who doesn’t want trouble.” So, we had to rewrite the death in the second draft of the script. We are glad it stirred the emotions we wanted.


“ATCJ” centers on family and how they help each other through thick and thin. The only reason the Judah brothers embarked on a heist in the first place was to raise money for the treatment of their ailing mother. Why did you feel it was important to highlight the theme of family?

Blood is thicker than water as the saying goes. When the chips are down, who will you turn to for help? The Judah brothers had themselves alone to help each other out of their misery, which was to save their mother’s health. It’s just instincts; no matter how bad you have it in your family, they will always have your back. It was easy for the Judah boys to come together and set their differences aside for a cause because they’re all they’ve got. This is someone (Jedidah) who has sacrificed her life to nurture and train her children. Unfortunately, they turned out the way they did, but she didn’t give up. It’s an easy decision that they do right for her by making sure they exhaust all options to restore her health.


Poverty is the driving force behind the actions of the main characters and that of the supporting characters as well. From Emeka to Colette, everyone wanted money. However, is it really poverty, or were they all just greedy?

Emeka and his brothers are wretched. There is only little their monthly pay could do to save their mother’s life. That is why they turned to the alternative solution by robbing the C & K Furniture Store. They just wanted money to save their mother’s health. From the writing perspective, Colette wanted more money too. From Chigozie’s perspective, she was greedy. We struck a balance in both worlds.


What would you say is unique about each Judah brother?

I think it’s the ability to find the strengths in their weaknesses.



Out of everyone who participated in the heist, the only one who enjoyed the loot was Jerry. He was rewarded for doing absolutely nothing! Do you think that’s fair?

(laughs) The great philosopher Adekunle Gold said, “Easy money, money, money, ogaranya.” In the words of another philosopher Young Jonn, “Ise kekere owo nla….”  This means “small work, big money.”  I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a situation where you have little to do and are heavily compensated. It wasn’t Jerry’s plan to do nothing and collect free money. It just happened that his greed worked out for him.


The film ends with a bounty on the Judah brothers’ heads. Do you think they’d be caught? Is this the premise for a second film?

(laughs) We will see about that.


Many people on social media have noted that the film is more of a social commentary than a comedic-action drama. What are your thoughts on this?

They are not wrong. Aunty Funke will always tell us to be original and continue telling our African stories. If people see it that way, then I think we can pat ourselves on the back and say we did an excellent job.


Lastly, why do you think “ATCJ” resonated well with audiences at home and abroad?

Honestly, it’s the originality of the story.


“A Tribe Called Judah” is still screening in cinemas in Nigeria, Ghana, and the United Kingdom. Adding to its impressive roster, it has begun screening in 9 Francophone countries.


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