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Naz Onuzo’s Quarantine Watchlist

From Nigerian dramas like 'Castle & Castle' to Netflix's 'Sex Education,' here's what Nigerian film exec, Naz Onuzo, is watching while at home.

As a film executive, screenwriter and recently director, Naz Onuzo has his hands on many aspects of the film business. More than most, he understands how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the film industry, and like most producers, he's figuring out how to restart productions. "The fundamental driver is safety, you have to be able to ensure the safety of your cast and crew," he told me over the phone last week. "We have been reading a lot of things about how it's being done, and we just need to figure out what will work for us."

Onuzo's directorial debut Who's The Boss was playing in cinemas nationwide when President Muhammadu Buhari announced the lockdown orders, cutting the film's run prematurely after playing for just four weeks – the film grossed just over ₦30 million. Now, cinemas are reopening but with 50 percent occupancy, and there are worries over the impact on the box office. Onuzo doesn't think it will be major.


"The average occupancy in Nigeria cinemas is less than 50 percent, he said. "So we don't expect an overall impact on box office in terms of occupancy, the main driver is whether people will come out to watch."

With more time on his hand, Onuzo has been watching more films and series with his wife. "There's been a lot of great content that we have seen over the last eight weeks," he said. "Hopefully, we continue to see more."

Below are five films and series he recommends you watch during this pandemic.

Kingdom (2019, directed by Kim Seong-hun)

Plot: A political period Korean horror that follows a crown prince who tries to save his people from a mysterious plague.

Onuzo notes: "We all love Korean dramas now, but I've been a fan of Korean movies forever. I read that Kingdom was a realistic way of how to deal with a pandemic so I have been watching it. I liked the world-building, and I liked the meditation on duty about the Prince, who was trying to do the right thing, even though nobody wanted him to. And there's a lot of studies in leadership, different leadership styles from his parents to his main rival, to his mentor, to the young magistrates. So there are a lot of different studies on the type of leader that you want to be. So, in addition to all the zombie killing, there was a lot of that going on."

Watch on Netflix.

Castle & Castle (2018, directed by Niyi AKimolayan, Tope Oshin and Kenneth Gyang)

Plot: A legal drama about a successful lawyer couple whose marriage is strained by their conflicting interests.

Onuzo notes: "One of the things I liked about it [Castle & Castle] was the realistic portrayal of the husband and wife dynamic, the power dynamic is not the same in the marriage as it is in the public sphere. So it was a very interesting exploration of private versus public. And a lot of the performances were also pretty strong, people like Deyemi, Blossom, Eku Edewor et cetera."

Watch on Netflix.

Sex Education (2019, created by Laurie Nunn)

Plot: A comedy-drama about a socially awkward boy who seem to have all the answers on sex, thanks to his sex therapist mother.

Onuzo notes: "I started watching Sex Education, which was a series on my list that I never got around to. The optimism at the heart of the show is what makes it work. Yes, all the sex stuff and inclusiveness are important, but it's a show that believes in the fundamental goodness of humanity, and that was liberating to watch. A lot of shows these days have a very nihilistic view of life, so it's always good to see something that is refreshingly optimistic.

"At the heart of a lot of our work is optimism – that people are generally good – and this work is something that explored that theme a lot. And it's something that spoke to me."

Watch on Netflix.

Fishbone (2020, directed by Editi Effiong)

Plot: An excellent short film about a nifty drug counterfeiter who lives above the law, but not too high for karma.

Onuzo notes: "I like the whole nest of consequences thing about how you can never escape your sins, and it's a method that's very powerful in a place like Nigeria, where a lot of people believe they can live free of the consequences of their actions. And I guess even this COVID 19 pandemic is one of those things. We've underinvested in our healthcare for so long, and now everybody – the rich and the poor – is stuck here. Basically, you have to fix your home because it's the only home you have. So I guess, in a time like this, a film like Fishbone resonates even more so that the works of our hands are what guarantee our future. And we have to be mindful of that."

Watch on Youtube.

Little Fire Everywhere (2020, directed by Lynn Shelton, Nzingha Stewart and Michael Weaver)

Plot: Little Fires Everywhere follows the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

Onuzo notes: "Little Fires Everywhere is pretty enjoyable. It has powerful performances from both female leads. And it was a study about the damage you do to each other when you don't tell the truth and about class dynamics, so that was it. It was a pretty cool watch."

Watch on Hulu and Amazon Prime.


Interview
Photo: Lex Ash (@thelexash). Courtesy of Simi.

Interview: Simi Is Taking Risks

Nigerian star Simi talks about the successes & risks of this year, her thoughts on the #EndSARS protests, and how her husband, Adekunle Gold, inspired Restless II.

Simi is restless. It has nothing to do with the year she has had, in fact, she reaffirmed her status as one of Nigeria's most successful musicians with a single music drop, "Duduke," which enjoyed widespread appeal as the nation went into lockdown earlier in the year.

The 32-year-old singer's restlessness is a reflection of the organised chaos that has defined her recording process this year as she combined the rigours of being an expectant mother with an examination of her place in the wider world. It, more accurately, reflects her re-negotiation of the parameters of her stardom.

"I've never really been a big fan of the spotlight," she whispers silently early in our Zoom conversation. "I know that it comes with the territory, but when I got my big break and more people started to recognise me, I realised that I had to edit myself, my life, and most of the things that I'd do or say because I wanted to be careful to keep a part of me for myself."

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