”Slum King” Redefines Crime Drama, But Director Says, ”Not Your Typical Ending.”
The genre of action has been on a meteoric rise within Nollywood, the heart of African cinema. Recent films like Kemi Adetiba’s “King of Boys,” Jade Osiberu’s “Brotherhood,” and “Gang of Lagos” have heralded a thrilling era of adrenaline-pumping narratives, dynamic stunts, and gripping crime stories. These cinematic gems have not only redefined the scope of action storytelling in African cinema but have also underscored Nollywood’s growing storytelling prowess.
Amidst this surging wave of action-packed narratives, “Slum King” steps into the limelight. With a riveting Oct. 8 premiere and now gracing screens every Sunday at 8 p.m. on Africa Magic Showcase, this crime series, directed by Dimeji Ajibola, aims to carve its unique niche within this trend. It offers a narrative that ventures deep into the uncharted territories of ambition, resilience, and the indomitable human spirit, presenting an experience that stands out in an ever-evolving cinematic landscape.
While the action genre continues its upward trajectory, “Slum King” emerges as a compelling contender, challenging conventional norms within the genre.
In an exclusive interview with TNR, Ajibola, the visionary director spearheading this groundbreaking project, offered profound insights into the genesis of “Slum King.”
TNR: Can you share your initial vision for “Slum King” and what inspired you to take on this project?
Ajibola: When I start creating a film, I begin with a strong emotion, a particular feeling, or a sense tied to a subject, person, or situation. The overall vision takes shape as the story, and its essence is filtered through my own perspective, the creative team’s input, and the actors’ interpretations. My main goal is to strive for an approach that is truly personal and aligned with the team and actors involved. This approach aims to deeply engage the audience emotionally, encouraging them to stay connected with the narrative throughout the entire journey. This has always been the central vision right from the project’s outset.
What themes or messages do you hope to convey through the series?
Ajibola: The narrative of the “Slum King” story captivated me instantly because it vividly depicted the vitality of life, presented a genuine portrayal of reality, and immersed me in the inherent drama of the circumstances. What particularly struck me was the profound insight it provided into the daily lives of adolescents and people residing in the challenging environment of the ghetto. The story highlighted their remarkable perspective—an amalgamation of empathy, a determination to survive, and the strength to conquer formidable challenges against all odds.
What were some of the creative challenges you faced while bringing “Slum King” to life?
Ajibola: Every film commences with thorough preparation before stepping onto the set. Regardless of the historical era or set scale, this principle remains consistent. It’s essential to analyze the dynamics of each scene and determine the most engaging approach. In the case of “Slum King,” whether a scene involved a bustling crowd or intense gang conflicts, I approached each one as if it were a blank canvas, focusing on the essence of the scene. After meticulous rehearsals, ensuring props were in place, and resolving any other logistical details, we were well-prepared. Consequently, challenges were minimized as we had an unobstructed vision and a comprehensive plan in place to mitigate any potential misfortunes.
Can you describe the process of working with the cast and crew to capture the essence of the slums and the characters’ transformations?
Ajibola: Indeed, any endeavor worth pursuing deserves to be executed with excellence. During the pre-production phase, our crew dedicated exhaustive efforts, leaving no aspect unexamined. Collaborating with the actors to breathe life into the narrative entails granting them the opportunity to fully embody the character’s world. It’s about comprehending the character’s vulnerabilities, and strengths, as well as their societal and economic context, enabling them to fully step into the role. Once this crucial aspect is achieved, the rest of the process becomes significantly smoother. Subsequent rehearsals ensure that they authentically portray the character before we commence shooting.
“Slum King” features a compelling transformation of the main character, Maje Esu. How did you work with the actor, Tobi Bakre, to bring this character to life?
Ajibola: We initially portrayed a younger version of Maje, aged between 16-18 at the outset, and then transitioned to his late 20s towards the end. Both actors embodied the essence of Maje excellently, highlighting the right blend of qualities from teenage vulnerability to adult charisma. They had the requisite good looks paired with a vulnerability that made Maje relatable—a blend of delicate and fierce, as was true to the character.
Tobi Bakre’s exceptional acting skills shined through as he effortlessly embodied Maje, bringing out the enigmatic yet lively quality of the character. His every action, even the mundane, carried a captivating charm, making it a delight to work with him. There’s a unique, personal style that infuses everything he does, even a simple act like a confrontation or handling objects, adding an intriguing dimension to his performance—like when he fought with Sapele water, leaving you awe-inspired and wishing you could fight like that. It’s a captivating quality that keeps the audience engaged and entertained.
Tobi Bakre’s portrayal of Maje Esu displays the character’s complexity and charm, making him a central figure in “Slum King.”
The series is part of a growing trend of crime action dramas in African cinema. How do you see “Slum King” contributing to this trend, and what sets it apart from others in the genre?
Ajibola: In a crime action movie, the dynamic is akin to a bullfight, following a ritualistic pattern that typically ensures the criminal’s demise. So, while you can momentarily set aside this knowledge, a subconscious awareness persists, bracing you for the inevitable failure of the criminal. This predicted ending is easier to come to terms with. However, “Slum King” takes a different route. Maje isn’t inherently a criminal; his story is one of suffering, aspirations, and a quest for retribution. As for whether he succeeds or fails, we’ll leave that for you to witness, and I can assure you, it’s a truly unique journey.
In your view, how has the African entertainment industry evolved in recent years, and what opportunities and challenges does this evolution present for directors and creators?
Ajibola: The African entertainment sector has undergone significant growth, experiencing swift evolution in both the film and music domains. The progress is highly promising, and we find ourselves in a phase of immense potential, demonstrating our worth and capabilities.
The primary hurdles, however, lie in knowledge and financial aspects. Enhancing our understanding to meet global standards, not just limited to Africa, is crucial – striving for content that holds international quality, resonating with people irrespective of their origins. The ongoing transformation indicates our continuous evolution, but the pursuit of knowledge should remain boundless. Additionally, securing more funding is essential to execute projects effectively and unlock further potential.
“Slum King” represents a compelling addition to African cinema. This crime series takes viewers on a journey through the challenging slums, exploring themes of ambition, resilience, and the human spirit.
As the series continues to captivate audiences every Sunday at 8 p.m. on Africa Magic Showcase, viewers can expect an immersive experience, characterized by authenticity and a unique twist on conventional crime action drama.
With a narrative that challenges genre norms, “Slum King” offers a story of suffering, aspirations, and a quest for retribution that engages audiences in a fresh and captivating way.
As the series gains momentum, it is poised to inspire discussions among viewers and critics alike. Ultimately, “Slum King” conveys a message of optimism, resilience, vulnerability, and the relentless pursuit of dreams, resonating deeply with its audience.