Revisiting Excellence and Missed Chances in Four Nollywood Movies
Leaving out Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys would be not nice, to say the least. Sola Sobowale is such a delight to see playing Oba, the ambitious influence bearer of the Street. It portrays the top floor political activities and their consequences. In this movie, Adetiba presents a space from which we can view the ongoing 2023 campaigns.
No review of Nollywood cinema can afford to miss the scene where Odogwu Malay was having this conversation with his sons in the sequels.
“You mean you boys accepted something from a stranger after all I taught you boys?’
The alarm on his face goes right into the heart of the security condition of modern communities.
So, what happened in the scene?
It opens with a beautiful family time, before the beat warns.
Madam explains they were heading to school and had a flat. While the driver was fixing it, someone came to her sons’ school, near enough to engage her children. Even offering chocolate.
Madam had left that responsibility to the bodyguards.
For a man in the business of making enemies, it was a red flag. Unlike Madam, Odogwu Malay knows the loyalty of the guards is only commercial.
If you watched King of Boys, you would remember the role of Odogwu Malay shooting Makanaki.
Hovering over the superior performance of the scene is the real danger of losing a loved one to vengeance seeking predators.
The following scenes toggle between R.M.D playing a pastor who is expecting 160, 000 in his upcoming crusade and the Iya Oloja who owes Oba an old favor. These positions have become major deciders in politics today.
In the toggled scenes, the nimble wife of the governor sets the pastor up for a paparazzi ambush at the governor’s home.
The meeting in Iya Oloja’s home ends with Oba’s rocking seat after being ordered to get lost.
Running through Adetiba’s fine work and other Netflix movies in this discourse is the theme of betrayal.
Aníkúlápó, Omo Ghetto—The Saga, and Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman are in focus as well.
The theme of betrayal binds the four movies, though they are set in different eras of the Yoruba timeline.
Omo Ghetto and King of Boys are set in the cellular world. Aníkúlápó and Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman are set in ancient Oyo Kingdom.
Looking at the history of Old Oyo, the issue of Odale—betrayal— led to the disintegration of an empire that once took tributes from as far away as Dahomey.
A once united kingdom as we see in Aníkúlápó was plunged into civil war as new interests compromised old loyalties. Leading to opportunities for Great Britain to colonize the butchered empire as we see in Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman.
While three of the movies have their lenses trained on a betrayal at interpersonal levels, Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman opts for the issue of betraying your community and yourself.
In their own way, the period movies speak to the present time.
In the opening poetry, Aníkúlápó is presented as an unfolding prophecy from the corpus of ifa. The main character (Mc), who bears the titular name, played by Kunle Remi reflects leaders who focus on the pecks of office to the point of forgetting all their obligations and losing their humanity.
In Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman, we also find a role model of the pampered African leader, betraying his community, failing in his duty, and undermining the sustainability of the state.
First on the dateline is Aníkúlápó, a folktale about the beautiful young wife of the Oba who got into an entanglement with Saro, the handsome weaver from Gbogan, later hailed as Aníkúlápó —one with power over death.
The romance almost got Saro killed.
He was in fact woken from the dead by the mythical Akala bird which is documented in Odu Ifa.
Arolake offered Saro freedom from his toy boy life with Awarun, the powerful cougar of Oyo court. Well played by Sola Sobowale of the King of Boys fame.
The intuition to attack the bird and retrieve its magic gourd was entirely that of the Arolake, the woman who watched from under cover. Arolake, played by the award-winning Bimbo Ademoye, is the one who had the opportunity and the bravery to secure the resurrection gourd.
But she hands this great power of raising the dead to Saro who goes right on to betray the woman who gave up her place in the palace of Oyo to fulfill his destiny.
Aníkúlápó is played against an ambitious background, evoking the commerce and culture of the capital Oyo and a journey through raw territories till they ran into a hunter on the outskirt of another Yoruba kingdom.
The son of this benevolent hunter had died when he arrived his home.
That is when his wife hands him the power that changed his name to Anikulakpo—One who has death in a pouch. When fame, fortune, and power came his way, her heart was first to get broken by her randy husband.
Common to most, folklore-based main character is a measure of flatness. It comes from conforming with the ancient storyline. But modern fans are tired of Black or white characters. Saints with blots and sinners with bright spots are the norms now.
We see Saro come in a dusty, homeless, broke stud.
A rich cougar, played prettily by Toyin Tomato, makes a toy boy of him, and sets up a weaving business for him. Awarun has a place in palace deliberations, and like Oba in King of Boys, she is not shopping for a husband.
Unlike Oba who has no apparent lover, Awarun picks men as pecks of her success.
When business brings Saro to the palace, he once again did not hesitate to have the king’s unhappy, freedom-seeking wife.
In both seductions, there is no attempt to reflect on his actions, no commitment of any sort to morality. Like a testosterone stereotype.
Saro was exchanged for debt by his parents when he was six. That much he told Arolake. We see him climb the social ladder in a way that looks predatory in the end. It is difficult to understand why the Mc never examines his own behavior. There is no reason for his badness and no love of the writer for this character. When he crumbles to his own conceit, he does so without evoking any catharsis or any sense that Aníkúlápó is a tragic character. He is deserving of derision, rather than exciting terror or pity.
We can sympathize with Arolake because we know she is in a captive wife situation. Aníkúlápó has nothing endearing about him apart from his weaving skills and physical beauty.
Next on the timeline is Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman and here we see the lovable rogue character, Eleshinoba as the main character. We see Eleshinoba being celebrated for his valor and the essence of his role in the community. Like the politicians of the season, Eleshin takes full advantage of his boundless entitlements.
He comes into our screen mounted on a horse and is praised for his role and responsibility to his community.
He has spent his life in splendor because of his commitment to fulfilling a sacred function for his people.
On the eve of playing the essential role, we see him go against decorum to obtain a maiden betrothed to Oloja’s son as a parting gift to his ego and libido. This self-seeking act wears down his commitment and willpower to hold up his end of the table.
The introduction and complication of this movie gives more texture to Eleshinoba than in the case of Aníkúlápó. We know a lot more about Eleshinoba. Enough visuals and dialogue to see a more three-dimensional character.
Both movies engage the total drama tradition of Ogunde and Kilani.
Beautifully done in Aníkúlápó and a nudge distracting in Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman. Engaging nonetheless and memorable. Kudos to Bymo’s voice, which gives the film a musical drama air.
Both movies quite succeed in evoking and immersing the viewers in a time long gone.
Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka, which Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman is a cinematic rendition of, is written entirely in poetic English. It takes advantage of a stage dialect where everyone understands everyone else. It is a convention where we suspend doubt to enjoy the story on stage.
In Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman, Biyi Bandele works in the Yoruba language and does it beautifully. Until after Eleshinoba is aided to betray his people by the British District officer.
It is quite difficult to admit the illusion that the British District officer speaking Queen’s English and the Eleshinoba speaking Yoruba are having the lofty conversations in the film. It stretches the imagination on film.
It seems like Bandele was too loyal to Soyinka’s text to manage the later scenes outside a stage. Expecting the audience to assume both characters can somehow understand each other, without the intervention of an interpreter, is asking for too much at a cinema or Netflix.
Nearer to our era are King of Boys and Omo Ghetto. These two movies present liberated women, Oba and Lefty. Aníkúlápó also shows there were women of substance like Awarun in Old Oyo, but while Iya Oloja is prominent in Ẹlẹṣin Ọba: The King’s Horseman, she is an integral part of the patriarchy.
The characters in the modern era flicks are well-developed by the screenwriters. The most rounded being Sobowale’s role. The main character brings his mental struggle powerfully to the table. There’s a lot of love and empathy invested in this character as Byanvanga Wainana would have said.
Her misguided attempt to lacerate herself to self-forgiveness and her loss of loved ones keeps the audience leaving room for her in their hearts.
Where film goers may be left wondering are the scenes toggled between Oba in Cele uniform rolling on the beach and Makanaki going through a fortification ritual in a shrine. These scenes seem pedantic and redundant in the first movie.
In the sequel, it accounts for how Makanaki seemed to have survived a professional assassination with several rounds of riddling bullets.
It makes for high drama, but it raises questions about promoting a false claim of anti-bullet charms which has led to avoidable deaths in recent times.
The journalist who is sold to the truth and his family is strained to breaking point because of this passion to uncover the truth.
Through the back story of the governor’s wife, the influence of Matriarchs like Mrs. Randle, the governor’s mum, played by Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Adetiba scores big with creating textures for her characters. Admittedly, her canvas is large—A movie and a sequel of seven series.
Talking about flat characters, Odudubariba, played by Charlie Boy could be the most one-dimensional character among the movies under review.
It fails to evoke the terrifying character he hoped to portray. There is something plastic about the role—neither liked, hated nor considered fearful.
Saved for the last and the most engaging movie is the saga of Omo Ghetto, played with gusto by Funke Akindele.
The main character reminds of the MC of Looking for Baami—played by Bimbo Ademoye. Here Akindele is playing a role that starts with the thing to admire the most about Lefty. Her willingness to defend minors and her gender. The language of the ghetto is iconic, and it foreshadows the future language of Nollywood as foreshadowed by the worldwide acceptance of Nigerian idioms in the musical space.
It is street pidgin with Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Benin infused into it. Fluid and intriguing to the international community, it gives a wider access to most Nigerians and West Africans and holds promises for future entertainment.
Akindele plays two contrastive twins and makes a statement about environment as fundamental to character. Lefty is a radical feminist, a Robin Hood type leading a gang of four females quite capable of giving and taking blows from men.
They are rough but loyal friends—played by Chioma Akpotha, Mercy Aigbe, Eniola Badmus.
Lefty is in love with a ghetto boy, Femi Stone, despite having left the ghetto to live in a high brow Amen Estate.
Femi is a wanna succeed con artist who accidentally finds himself in a murder situation.
Lefty stands between him and jail time but would not betray her lover. Femi turns out a heartbreaker when he brings in a white woman for a romance fraud.
Lefty informs the scammed lady about what Femi Stone is up to.
After which, Femi kidnaps Lefty’s twin sister—also played by Funke Akindele. Leading to a rescue mission by Lefty and her friends. Interestingly, Lefty survives fisticuffs with Femi Stone in the end.
Omo Ghetto is attractive and quite brings to the table government neglect and the need to pay attention to our ghettos. The underlying feeling running through the film is that these ghettos, crowded with citizens serially betrayed by leaders who only remember them during campaign seasons, are veritable boiling points of bloody revolutions.