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Genevieve Nnaji's 'Lion Heart' is Nigeria's First Ever Entry to the Oscars

The Netflix original film has been submitted for the 'Best International Feature Film' category.

Last year in September, Netflix picked up Genevieve Nnaji's directorial debut Lion Heart and it became the first Netflix original film to come out of Nigeria's colossal film industry. More recently, the film has now been submitted to the Oscars in the "Best International Feature Film" category—Nigeria's first ever entry to the Oscars according to Screen.


Nigeria's Nollwood is the second biggest film industry in the world, producing at least 50 films per week. Although the country set up the Nigerian Oscars Selection Committee back in 2014, the committee has reportedly not been able but to find a film meeting the selection criteria until now.

Lion Heart stars Nnaji in the lead role as she performs alongside Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie and Onyeka Onwenu. The film tells the story of Adaeze, a young woman who steps up to the challenge of running the family business with her uncle after her father experiences some health issues. Adaeze then tries to juggle both her family and thriving career amidst rampant sexism in the workplace and attempts to save the business from financial ruin.

In an effort to be more representative, the Oscars did away with the "Best Foreign Language Film", citing that it was outdated, and changed it to "Best International Feature Film" in April of this year.

Watch the trailer for Lion Heart below:

LIONHEART by Genevieve Nnaji - trailer eng sub youtu.be

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Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

The Best Nollywood Films Streaming on Netflix Right Now

From movies by Genevieve Nnaji to Kunle Afolayan—these are the best Nigerian films to watch online while stuck inside avoiding the coronavirus.

While European and American streets are empty due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, Lagos streets are still vibrant and alive. Oshodi market is operating at full capacity with customers feeling the lace and Ankara fabrics before buying and clothes sellers dragging passersby to their shops. Perhaps it's a matter of time, but for now things are mostly as normal. But for our brothers and sisters in the diaspora, holed-up in their homes waiting for a resolution to the crisis, Netflix is an excellent distraction.

The Nollywood-Netflix romance is still new, but growing stronger. In 2015, the streaming platform acquired Kunle Afolayan's October 1 and Biyi Bandele's Fifty. The relationship blossomed to a newer level in 2018 with the acquisition of Genevieve Nnaji's dramedy, Lionheart, ahead of its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), making it the first Netflix original film from Nigeria.

READ: The 20 Best Nollywood Movies of All Time

Since then, Netflix has acquired over 40 Nollywood films, from blockbusters like King of Boys, Chief Daddy, and Isoken to less popular pictures like Kasala! and Taxi Driver (Oko Ashewo). With the increased number of Nigerian films on Netflix, it might be a daunting task to select the best ones to watch. To help, we have picked the 10 best Nollywood films currently streaming on the platform.

93 Days

Just like the real-life story it's based on, Steve Gukas's 93 Days is a rare mark of Naija excellence. It is a film Nollywood will always look back at with pride in the same fashion Nigeria will always be proud of preventing the outbreak of the viral Ebola disease. The film documents the triumph against Ebola and salutes the heroes of that battle, but it is not great because of what it stands for, but how well it told that story: beautifully shot, well-acted—with lead Bimbo Akintola delivering an excellent performance—and brilliantly helmed by Gukas.

October 1

Back when Kunle Afolayan's filmmaking brand was ambition and excellence, he made October 1, his best film yet and one of the best from the last decade. Set against the backdrop of Nigeria's independence, October 1 is mainly about solving a series of gruesome murders that's been happening in Akote, a remote town in Western Nigeria. But after a more in-depth look, it's more; the film continually poses questions about colonialism and its long term effects on the fragile democracy of young Nigeria. Working with trusted collaborators, Yinka Edward (cinematographer) and Pat Nebo (production designer), Afolayan creates a gorgeous picture reminiscent of '60's Nigeria.

Isoken

In its early part, Jade Osiberu's colorful romantic comedy, Isoken, is about the biggest sin a Nigerian woman can commit: be single and successful at 34. In the later part, the film embraces the trappings of its genre. Two men are after the titular Isoken's heart. The first, Osaze, is charming and perfect, but wrong for her. The second, Kevin, is also lovely, but imperfect; however, he seems to be the right one. But what distinguishes Isoken from most Nigerian romantic comedies is its feminist leanings, it is precisely the rom-com a career woman like Osiberu would write and direct.

King of Boys

There is something about the current crop of Nollywood female filmmakers and strong female protagonists, this is evident in Isoken and Lionheart, but those ladies were sweet, and their brush with patriarchy was soft. Kemi Adetiba's King of Boys is a more aggressive feminist story, one in which violence is the weapon that obliterates patriarchy. The ambitious story follows Eniola Salami (played competently by Sola Sobowale), a woman who has conquered the men of Lagos underworld and now wants to conquer a different set of powerful men: the gatekeeper of Nigerian politics. Inspired by the Godfather trilogy, King of Boys is the ambitious crime drama Nollywood did not know it needed.

Lionheart

Genevieve Nnaji's Lionheart proves that simple can be effective. The screenplay by Nnaji and her co-writers – C. J. Obasi, Ishaka Bako, etc. – keep things simple, maybe too simple that the story becomes safe, but it works. The film, which revolves around a woman on a mission to prove her capability in handling her father's bus company despite having a proven track record, is a love letter to Eastern Nigerian. It is set in Enugu. It features mostly Igbo actors, and it captures the strange patriarchy in an Igbo household, where a woman is given the best education, but not trusted to handle affairs related to business competently.

Taxi Driver

Lagos is brutal and peppered with shady people; at night, its brutality and shadiness are increased in ten folds. Daniel Oriahi's Taxi Driver tells a tale about Lagos nights and its players—prostitutes, gang lords, and assassins—through the eyes of a taxi driver. Inspired by Martin Scorsese's films, Oriahi's tells a neo-noir story that's unique to Lagos, he washes the city with high contrast lighting to give it the stylish look of noir films. And while the picture is gorgeous, the more impressive part of this film is the dramatic performances from Odunlade Adekola and Hafiz Oyetoro, two actors Nollywood have often reduced to caricaturist roles.

Hakkunde

Hakkunde is an inspiring story about the resilience of the Nigerian youth amidst adversity. It explores, with humor and warmth, what it means to be young and unemployed in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos. The film approached the unemployed Nigerian trope differently; here, the lead character, Akande, leaves Lagos, the land of opportunities, for a remote village in Kaduna in search of greener pastures. It's usually the opposite. Akande is played by Frank Donga (real name: Kunle Idowu), in a terrific debut performance that showed he is more than just an Instagram comedian. Hakkunde is also unusual in that it is a Nollywood film that celebrates Northern Nigeria and shows its plenty, unharnessed potential.

Kasala!

Ema Edosio's Kasala! is a film many Nollywood fans cry for, but seldom get. A story about Lagos and its young people that's true to the average Lagosian. It's gritty, authentic, and raw, just like Lagos. Four boys entered Kasala! when they crashed a borrowed car, and they must find a way out of this wahala before the day ends or risk the wrath of the crazy owner.

Kasala! is enjoyable thanks to the leading cast, the awesome foursome of Chigozie Imo, Mike Afolarin, Emeka Nwagbaraocha, and Tomiwa Tegbe, who embodied being Lagos boys. One of the film's successes is its skillful melodramatic acting, which never feels out of place. If you want to know what a group of Lagos boys do to escape kasala, Edosio's debut is an excellent start.

The Wedding Party

The Wedding Party is about two things, everything that could go wrong in a big Nigerian wedding and the ethnic tension between the Igbo's and Yoruba's, but it is more about the former than the latter for obvious reasons: the movie wants to entertain! You can find faults in the film's acting, unneeded scenes, and its lack of narrative surprises, but you can't deny its charm. A thorough crowdpleaser. It features an enjoyable cast, with a rapturous Sola Sobowale, the standout performer.

Up North

Tope Oshin's Up North is a bit opposite of Hakkunde. In the latter, an unemployed young man seeks greener pastures in Northern-Nigeria; in Up North, a rich heir is thrown into the North. And while Hakkunde focuses on the people, Up North explores its places and beauty. What may be lacking in the bland story is more than made up for by the sheer beauty of the North—its culture and landscapes—that the film showcases, and there's a marvelous masculinity contest between father and son that's all too common in the average Nigerian home.

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Image courtesy of ROK Studios.

CANAL+ Group Has Acquired Top Nollywood Studio ROK To Boost Original Content Development

This a huge feat for the 4-year-old Nigerian start-up.

ROK, Africa's leading film studio and international TV network, has been acquired by top French film and television studio, CANAL+ Group, for an undisclosed amount to boost original content development.

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The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Sarkodie, Cassper Nyovest, Elaine, Darkovibes, Stogie T, Phyno, C Natty, and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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