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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.