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Placard "End SARS now" is seen during the protest over Nigerian police brutality in Cologne, Germany, on October 23, 2020.

#EndSARS: Martin Luther King III Appeals to Nigerian Government Amidst Ongoing Protests

Martin Luther King III has appealed to the Nigerian government to respect the rights of #EndSARS protestors in the nation's enduring calls to end police brutality.

Martin Luther King III has appealed to the Nigerian government to value protestors' human rights amidst ongoing #EndSARS protests. According to Nairametrics, King called directly on President Muhammadu Buhari to respect and protect the rights of Nigerian protestors. This comes after the bloody shooting of peaceful protestors at Lekki toll gate in Lagos. King joins a universal chorus of international voices that have supported Nigeria's call to end police brutality through the disbandment of SARS.


King III took Twitter which is the platform where #EndSARS has been trending over two weeks now.

King, the son of historic civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, is the latest African-American voice to join the admonishment of Buhari. The inheritor of a great human rights legacy and human rights advocate himself, firmly stated that he stands with #EndSARS protestors after they were shot at with live ammunition on the 20th of October. African-Americans have been vociferous with #EndSARS and have joined in solidarity for the disbandment of the corrupt special police force. King's statement, released on Friday, followed after Buhari addressed Nigerians with a speech which seemed to chastise Nigerians for their ongoing demonstrations. Buhari indicated that he would continue to rule Nigeria with an iron fist with the police as his directory.

For two weeks, thousands of young people across Nigeria and abroad this month took to the streets to call for the dissolution of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a rogue police unit accused of extortion, extrajudicial killings, rape and torture. Buhari initially stated that SARS would be replaced with a new special force called SWAT. However protestors continued demonstrations calling for an end of any special force as they have a tendency to go rogue. Protests gained speed and strength culminating in the violence at Lekki toll gate.

Amnesty International estimates that a total of 56 people have died since the beginning of #EndSARS protests, 38 were killed on the 20th October at Lekki Gate. #EndSARS protests are still ongoing in the third week now. Mr. King joins other American political figures including US Presidential candidate Joe Biden and US Senate leader Elizabeth warren in condemning the attacks of brutality on peaceful protesters.

Featured
Photo Credit: Netflix

The Stars of 'Blood Sisters' Talk About Becoming Netflix's Biggest Hit

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about shooting Blood Sisters, acting in Nollywood, what's next, and more.

Earlier this month, Netflix's "first original series" from Nigeria was released. The limited series, Blood Sisters directed by Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang, follows two friends, Sarah (Ini Dima-Okojie) and Kemi (Nancy Isime), as they go on the run after the death of Sarah's fiance, Kola (Deyemi Okanlawon).

The show explores familial dysfunction, murder, the meaning of sisterhood, and how valuable friendships can be, with its central premise around domestic violence, a theme known to many.

Since its release, the four-part crime thriller has received praises, with Variety calling its first episode "explosive" and "hard-pressed to walk away." After its first week of release, the limited series sat at number nine on the list of most-watched TV shows globally, with over 11,070,000 hours of viewing, making it a first for Nigeria. This comes after Netflix’s first Nollywood film of the year —Chief Daddy — faced harsh criticisms from viewers and critics alike.

The success of Blood Sisters shows that cinematography isn’t the only selling point of Nollywood. And for Nollywood content to thrive on Netflix, there should be an investment in all areas, from the storytelling down to the marketing.

For Ini Dima-Okojie starring alongside some of Nollywood's big names — like Kate Henshaw, Ramsey Nouah, and Uche Jombo — was surreal because these are the people she watched growing up. "But when it came to filming, it didn't matter if you've been in the industry for just four years or 30 years," Dima-Okojie said. "All that mattered was everyone was ready to work."

Like Dima-Okojie, Nancy Isime also loved acting alongside them, even though it wasn't her first time working with some of them. "I was there for work and understood that it was bigger than just being Nancy Isime. It was me at work."

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about what it was like behind the scenes, acting in Nollywood, what's next for them, and more.

Blood Sisters | Trailer | Netflix

What's one thing you learned while shooting this series?

Ini Dima-Okojie: One thing I learned for sure is that Nigeria is ready to tell its authentic stories to a global audience. We're not just prepared; we're capable of standing behind any industry. I could feel that from being on set, with the professionalism I encountered. I also learned that it is good to be kind, deliberate, and mindful of what people are going through because what we do has an impact.

Nancy Isime: For me, I learned it's possible to have good production in Nigeria. I've been blessed to be in a couple, and this was one of them. And it's a highlight so far. I also learned about the characters.

Nancy Isime,

Photo Credit: Nancy Isime,

What was it like playing your roles, and how did you get it?

Dima-Okojie: When I got the audition file for Sarah, I went on my knees and told God, "I want this." You can tell from the size alone, and I think that has happened to me only three times in my career because it doesn't often happen as an actor. A week or two after I sent in my audition tape, I got an email telling me to send another tape, but this time, it was for a different character, Timeyin. Altogether, I auditioned for Kemi, Sarah, and Timeyin.

I was so excited playing Sarah. I felt so lucky because, at the end of the day, an actor is only as good as the opportunities they are given. So playing Sarah had me go deep into the character, asking questions and putting myself into her shoes.

Isime: It was wonderful playing my role. I had gotten an email asking to read for Sarah, not for Kemi. So I made my tape and sent it in. Then, I was called in for a private audition and read through with everybody. However, I was called back and was told that Netflix wanted me to play Kemi, and I was like, "What is a Kemi?" Because I never read for her. So I was reluctant to accept because I didn't know who the character was and if she'd have the opportunity to show her acting range. But I took it, and when I read the script, I was like, "Yes, Kemi. Yes, baby, let's do this."

What was your favorite scene to film?

Dima-Okojie: My favorite scene? That's hard. I had so many unforgettable moments. However, I think one monumental period I'd like to pick on is probably when Sarah stood up to her abuser Kola and told him, "No!" because that was very big. She barely speaks up and is so used to being bullied, whether for good or bad, even in her beautiful friendship with Kemi, where she's always being told what to do. But in that scene, she had found the strength and was finally able to speak up, even though she knew what his reaction was going to be.

She spoke up for herself at that moment, and I think it was a huge moment for Sarah. It was a huge moment for people who may have experienced [domestic violence] because if there's one thing I realized from research, it didn't matter where people who are susceptible to abuse are from. Whether they were black or white, old or young, it was a triumph for Sarah and everyone going through any form of abuse.

Isime: I loved every single scene of playing Kemi because, as you noticed, there's no scene she's in that is a usual scene. In fact, no scene in Blood Sisters could have been done away with if you noticed because every scene is putting you on edge the entire time. Coming to set every day, I was like, "we're h-a-p-p-y," because yes, I was happy.

Ini Dima-Okojie wearing white sneakers

Photo Credit: Ini Dima-Okojie

What was the most challenging scene?

Dima-Okojie: For the challenging scene, I'll like to break it into physical and emotional parts. It was very physically challenging for Sarah. From when they decided to go on the run, physically, we were in Makoko, running all over the community, jumping from canoe to canoe. We also went to Epe, where we were barefooted. It was grueling as an actor and a character because this wasn't a fit character. Emotionally, I had to understand everything that Sarah was going through. I had to chip away from who I am as Ini to connect with what she was going through, which can be draining. But thank God I was surrounded by amazing people and directors who eased the process and were there to pick me up anytime I was down.

The series is a global hit on Netflix; how does that make you feel?

Dima-Okojie: Honestly, it's surreal. It makes me emotional half the time because, as a performer, all you want is for people to watch your work and for it to resonate. Being an actor, people see the glitz and the glam, but it's a lot of work. You chip away part of yourself to give a character life, but it's worth it.

Isime: Floating. Floating in a bubble, floating in gratitude. It feels so good. Imagine having 11 million hours of watch time in five days? It's no easy feat. I don't think any African show has been able to do that. So for that to come from Nigeria, and for me to be lead? I don't think I'll ever come down from this high that I'm on.

You are both a part of a new generation of Nollywood actors doing amazing if I say so myself. What is that like?

Dima-Okojie: Generally, I think being an actor in the world today is incredible. Nollywood has gone through much because we were in a time where we didn't have financing and institutionally there's no backing. So being able to be in a world today where everything is global, and I can do something here in Lagos, while people from Japan, Belgium, and Qatar, are sending texts telling me they watched me and loved it, I don't think there's a better time to act than now. It's a fantastic time to be a Nigerian actor.

Isime: It feels good to be recognized for something I'm passionate about and love. I feel blessed because Nollywood is bigger than I am. It goes beyond ego and wanting to be the best because we're all part of something way bigger than us. And I'm so happy to be able to contribute to this industry, leave my prints in the sand of time, and say that yes, there was a time I was not just a Nollywood actor, but every single person can confirm. I mean, it's one thing to say you're an actor, and people start asking, "which film you act?" "this one too na actress?" but you can't say that when it comes to me. And it also feels good to be recognized by the AMVCA, which is a huge organization.

Netflix

Photo Credit: Netflix

Now, let's go behind the scenes: did anything funny, sad, or surprising happen while filming?

Dima-Okojie: There were so many exciting moments, not necessarily sad moments. We filmed for over two months at the height of COVID-19, so you can imagine all the craziness that must have happened.

I remember while filming the dinner scene after we had our COVID-19 test, they told us a cast member had the virus, causing us to reschedule. Another moment was when Ramsey Nouah brought a crocodile for us to eat while filming in Epe, and it was delicious. I honestly had lots of happy moments.

Isime: I feel like all these emotions happen naturally because I was happy every day I was on set. But something interesting that happened was the fact that Ini and I got so into the characters that we took it just beyond acting. We felt every emotion that the characters went through. We had one crying scene together, and I promise you that they cleared the room for us because we had to cry to get it out for a while. Because in reality, when something happens to you and you cry, you don't just cry for a bit. You have to let it out, and that was us. We were Kemi and Sarah and needed time to grieve. To let it out. It was an interesting event, and I had so many times I was tired, mentally and physically.

What's next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Dima-Okojie: There are so many exciting things in the works. First of all, I am getting married. Immediately after that, in June, I am going right back to set for the second season of Smart Money Woman. There are a couple more projects in the work that I'm not allowed to speak about yet, but there are exciting times ahead.

Isime: I love that question, and I also don't love that question because I don't know what's next. I'm just living my purpose, taking one day at a time, and grateful for every part of my journey. If you had told me five years ago that I'd be here, I would say it's a lie because I was probably sure that I knew where I was going. So what's next for me is a beautiful life, more projects, and more fantastic performances.

My show, The Nancy Isime Show, is also doing very well and happens to be one of the most-watched talk shows in the country, so I'm hoping that expands better. I'm also hoping to bring about a few more creations to life.

Arts + Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Timi Nathus Is Making Digital Art Mainstream

The Nigerian artist NAZQUIAT is on a mission to make his futuristic collection of NFTs the norm in his home country.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Nigerian multidisciplinary digital artist, Timi Nathus aka NAZQUIAT. Nathus's shares his #Afrotroves NFT collection with us, and explains it as "Each NFT was made from sacred artifacts that were previously stolen and haven't set foot in Africa hundreds of years". Nathus and a cohort of digital artists are reclaiming the images and stories that were stolen, and instead using them to empower and inform his own communities. By breaking the mold of traditional art and storytelling, Nathus's decision to establish this collection as a series of NFTS is shifting the power struggle and encourages the celebrations of the old and new.

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Art
(Photo by Fatma Esma Arslan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Dak'Art Biennale Returns

The Dakar Biennale, one of the continent's largest cultural events, is back after the pandemic for its 14th edition.

The 14th edition of Dak’Art opened last Thursday, after a four year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Previously, every two years, members of the international art world descended upon Dakar for its month-long Biennale. This year, Senegal’s teranga, or culture of hospitality, welcomes close to 300,000 visitors back and the city of Dakar serves yet again as a colorful backdrop for a meeting of minds.

The Dakar Biennale, dubbed Dak’Art, is one of the continent’s largest cultural events. Created in 1989 to celebrate literature, crafts, and visual arts, this form of the Biennale centered around contemporary African art has existed since 1996. Dak’Art has two unique parts: an IN, comprised of artists who adhere to the year’s theme, and an OFF, for those who do not. Where artists who show for the IN have works that can be found in national buildings like the Ancien Palais de Justice, Museum of Black Civilizations, Museum of African Art, and National Gallery, the myriad of artists who partake in the OFF show their off-beat works everywhere else in locations from hotels to restaurants to embassies to libraries to bus depots to beaches to galleries.

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Featured
Photo Credit: David Malan for Getty

10 Ethical African Fashion Brands to Support This World's African Day

For World’s Africa Day, OkayAfrica spoke with a number of ethical brands that are pioneering sustainability in the African fashion industry.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a push for fashion brands to be more sustainable and ethical with its practices. Although ethical fashion brands have continued to emerge across the American and European continents, many would argue that sustainable practices have been a part of the African fashion industry since before it became trendy. Crocheting, recycling and upcycling, sustaining of traditional crafts, hand weaving, and more have been a part of the African fashion industry for years.

Before now, a number of African brands have been doing its due diligence and putting in the work to ensure that their production and manufacturing follows a more ethical and sustainable route. For World’s Africa Day, OkayAfrica spoke with a number of these ethical brands that are pioneering sustainability in the African fashion industry.

Ajabeng Ghana (Ghana)

Ajabeng Ghana is an ethical fashion brand founded in 2018 by Travis Obeng-Caster. The brand's regular ethos follows Afro-minimalism and the creation of clothes that are easy to wear. The brand caters to people who associate wholly with minimalism, African arts, and culture. “Ajabeng is a Ghanaian unisex brand birthed at the crossroads of minimalism and contemporary African art and culture," Travis-Obeng tells OkayAfrica. "We use these two seemingly unrelated themes to create an aesthetic that conveys both the purity of minimalism and the vibrancy of African culture. We experiment with both feminine and masculine design elements to create an aesthetic that is as experimental as it is conservative."

Margaux Wong (Burundi)

Founded by Margaux Rosita, Margaux Wong is a sustainable jewelry brand based in Burundi. Since 2001, the brand has continued to use materials such as cow horns, brass, and other locally sourced sustainable materials to innovative accessory designs. “The Margaux Wong is an experimentation of my lifelong experience on this earth. It showcases the beauty and opulence of something that is beautifully handmade," Rosita said. "I love a timeless piece of jewelry, and it’s what I’m trying to share with the world. We basically showcase artistry, longevity, timelessness, and a new perspective on luxury."

Vanhu Vamwe (Zimbabwe)

“We do refer to ourselves as a brand, but we’re more of a revolutionary community that embodies creatively through the eyes of the most honest parts of ourselves," Zimbabwean founder Vamwe tells OkayAfrica. "We have often identified our works as objects rather than handbags, as we’re interested in the idea of our community having their own interpretation of what their purchases are."

Nkwo (Nigeria)

“We are mindful of the harmful impact that running a fashion business has on the planet and on the people."

Nkwo is a Nigerian sustainable brand founded by veteran designer Nkwo Onwuka in 2007. The brand is known for resource recovery and transformation of material waste into reusable products. “We use innovation as a tool to guide us as we work our way towards total zero waste garment production," Onwuka said. "Our methods of waste reduction pay homage to Africa's rich textile craft tradition and so it is a means of promoting our culture and heritage in a way that also respects the environment and is relevant to the world we live in today."

Abiola Olusola (Nigeria)

Eponymous label Abiola Adeniran-Olusola is a Nigerian sustainable brand founded in 2017. Adeniran-Olusola has worked with major fashion houses like Givenchy and Lanvin, since graduating with a BFA in fashion design from Istituto Marangoni Paris in 2015. “We focus on using sustainable materials in making our clothes, so we mainly use just cotton, silks and linens," Adeniran-Olusola said. "We work with craftsmen and women across the country in bringing our ideas to life. Our brand is easy, fresh and makes you feel cool."

Shekudo (Nigeria)

Founded and refocused by Nigerian-Australian Akudo Iheakanwa in 2017, Shekudo has become a household name for artisanal crafts and accessories in the continent. It’s become a brand that encapsulates culture, craftsmanship, heritage, sustainability and empowerment. “We try to showcase our local traditions and techniques through our fabrics and local resources like metals, leather, glass and bronze," Iheakanwa said. "We utilize what we can from our local environment into our designs and create products that can be appreciated not just locally, but across the world."

Maliko (Nigeria)

Maliko is shoe brand that uses handcrafted techniques of production. "With Maliko, we’re exploring different artisanal techniques that we can find in the continent,” Ebuka Omaliko, founder of the Nigerian footwear brand, tells OkayAfrica. “Our shoes are made in small batches. They’re ethically made. We focus duly on fair wages and ensure that people get the value of what they do.”

Hamaji Studio (Kenya)

Hamaji Studio is a brand inspired by everyday East African charm, nature, and people. The Kenya-based Hamaji, which means "nomad" in local Swahili, was founded by Louise Sommerlatte in 2017 and has since grown to be one of the continent’s most sought ethical brands. “Hamaji is a brand created around preserving ancient textile traditions and nomadic handcrafts. It’s a narrative of different stories and threads interwoven together to give clothing that tells a story, and supports local crafts people,” Sommerlatte tells OkayAfrica. “We only use natural fibers on our textiles and natural ingredients on our dyes."

Larry Jay Ghana (Ghana)

Ghana-born Larry Jafaru Mohammed first started the Larry Jay brand as an accessories line in 2012, before rebranding into a clothing line in 2016. Larry Jay caters his clothes for the fashionably conscious and individuals who have love for indigenous African fashion. “The brand is generally inspired by Nature, Various African Cultures and Arts," Jay said. "Our designs exude an understated style and emphasizes ‘tradition and comfort’. It is vintage, with details and innovations that echo our West African heritage.”

Viviers Studio (South Africa)

Based in South Africa, and founded by Lezanne Viviers, the Viviers Studio brand — which was founded in 2019 — has gone on to be one of the most sought after ethical brands emerging from South Africa. Their pieces are grounded in quality and integrity, intended to become unique heirloom pieces. “To us, the energy of the hand involved in the making of each item, is the highest form of luxury,” Viviers tells OkayAfrica. “We always attempt to sustain the ability for our team to continue with our work in a beautiful way, by having a positive impact on humanity, as well as on Mother Earth. Sustainability is a day-to-day approach."

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