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Twin Biopics to Spotlight Nigerian Literary Giant Wole Soyinka

Henry Louis Gates, Jnr. once said: “If the spirit of African democracy has a voice and a face, they belong to Wole Soyinka.” This gargantuan life is the subject of two upcoming biopics taking contrasting approaches.
May 6, 2024
8:14 am
Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, is set to have his remarkable life story told through two upcoming biopics taking contrasting approaches.


“The Man Died,” directed by Awam Amkpa, zeroes in on Soyinka’s 22-month imprisonment during Nigeria’s civil war in the late 1960s for attempting to broker a cease-fire. It’s based on his memoir of the same name detailing the harsh conditions he endured in the infamous Kirikiri Prison.


In an interview in which Amkpa discussed how the film was made, he said it explores themes of “humanism refusing suppression, refusing tyranny” that unite all people. He also added that the film is especially important in Nigeria’s current political climate, stating, “I think this is the right time, the political moment has made this film more poignant.”


The Man Died” is slated for release in July.


The second project is a biopic titled “Wole Soyinka” from filmmaker Joshua Ojo that aims to encompass Soyinka’s entire life journey – from his childhood to becoming a Nobel laureate playwright, poet, essayist and political activist.


In an exclusive interview with The Nollywood Reporter (TNR), Ojo said he “tried as much as possible to touch on relatively everything” about the literary icon, promising to reveal little-known aspects too.


To ensure authenticity, Ojo undertook extensive research – recreating real locales like Kirikiri Prison on elaborately constructed sets. He also guided actors by having them study archival footage to better embody Soyinka’s persona.


Though a release date hasn’t been set, Ojo hinted at his plans to have an earlier release date ahead of Amkpa’s movie to avoid any potential copyright issues over the idea of using Soyinka’s life story.


The two films showcase contrasting approaches in depicting one of Africa’s most influential and multitalented literary figures of the 20th century. Soyinka, now 89, won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, with the Swedish Academy hailing him for fashioning “a new English tongue.”


Beyond writing over 20 works across genres, Soyinka was an outspoken critic of military dictatorships in Nigeria who endured exile and imprisonment for his activism promoting human rights and democracy. His unwavering voice made him an iconic figure of African writers’ struggle for free expression.


As the films prepare to bring Soyinka’s legacy to global audiences through the silver screen, they’re reigniting interest in the life and works of Nigeria’s most celebrated author among younger generations. Their differing narrative lenses aim to capture the full depths of Soyinka’s profound cultural impact.


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