His flowing locs, charming smile, creative eye and adoring personality will be sorely missed but his memory will remain firmly etched in our memories and hearts.
Prolific Nollywood writer and director Biyi Bandele, famously known for directing Half of a Yellow Sun, Fifty and Blood Sisters, has died at the age of 54. His daughter Temi Bandele, and Ebonylife Studios CEO Mo Abudu confirmed that the maverick filmmaker passed away on the 7th of August in Lagos.
During his lifetime, his contribution to the Nigerian film industry was markedly notable and cannot be overstated, writing and directing some of the most innovative, thrilling and moving stories that have graced numerous screens in the country and even outside of it. His latest project Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman ー an adaption of Wole Soyinka's stage play Death and the King's Horseman ー is set to have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2022, an impressive feat that’s going to be beneficial to many. His achievements, in addition to his charming personality, are why the news of his passing is painfully devastating and sad.
Born in 1967 to Yoruba parents in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, Bandele’s early years were mostly spent up north. After he turned 18, he moved to Lagos for a brief period, before once again relocating ー this time several miles away from his hometown ー to the South Western part of the country where he enrolled in Obafemi Awolowo University to study Drama. It's in his time in Ife that he began to distinguish himself as an excellent and bright writer, winning the International Student Playscript competition of 1989 with an unpublished play titled Rain and also taking home the British Council Lagos Award for a collection of poems the following year.
After bagging his degree in OAU, he moved to London where he published his first set of brilliant novels: The Man Who Came in From the Back of Beyond and The Sympathetic Undertaker: and Other Dreams, the former which aptly captures the decaying standards, militarism and poverty of Nigeria at the time of release and the latter which provides a vivid image of the fierce political and social realities of Nigeria in the late 1980s. These two books would set the tone for his subsequent works which were high-powered, first-rate and oftentimes multifaceted.
The aforementioned works include writing radio drama and screenplays for television, most notably Rain; Marching for Fausa, Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought, Two Horsemen (which was selected as Best New Play at the 1994 London New Plays Festival), Death Catches the Hunter and Me and the Boys and Oroonoko, an adaptation of Aphra Behn's 17th-century novel of the same name. In 1997, he also successfully dramatised Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.
In 2007, Bandele released his latest and perhaps his most moving work Burma Boy, a harrowing account of the mayhem, the sacrifice and the dark humour of the Second World War's most vicious battleground, the Burmese jungle. In his review of the novel for The Independent, Tony Gould wrote: “Burma Boy explores to the full the inhumanity of modern warfare while celebrating the humanity of warriors caught up in it. It is a fine achievement, not least in giving the previously unheard West African Chindits a voice of their own.”
Taking into account Bandele’s brilliant work ー underscoring the heroism and absurdity of war ー as well as Gould’s pungent appraisal, it is no surprise that his directorial debut was an adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s famous book Half Of A Yellow Sun. The adaptation ー which screened in the Special Presentation section of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival ー right from the onset made a mark in the Nigerian film industry, critics rightly highlighting the movie’s narrative nuance, amazing sets, actors, supporting actors and music.
Bandele followed up this success by directing Fifty: The Movie, an Ebonylife film production starring Ireti Doyle, Nse Ikpe-Etim, Omoni Oboli, Wale Ojo, and Kachi Nnochiri. He also directed the third season of the popular MTV drama series, Shuga.
Arguably his most notable work behind the camera came earlier this year. Blood Sisters, the first Nigerian original Netflix series has significantly helped to set a new pace for the Nigerian film industry. Its plot line is atypical of popular Nollywood in a number of ways. Firstly, it chooses thrill and suspense over comical romance. Secondly, it pursues a new and growing representation of friendship between women, and Bandele’s seasoned storytelling was reflected in the story narrative and actor’s delivery.
During the media rounds for the highly anticipated film in June this year, Bside had an exclusive chat with the cast of Blood Sisters, and one of the main actors Deyemi Okanlawon described his experience working with the late director as a refreshing experience. According to him; “Biyi Bandele is a tough guy, he says something and then leaves you to it to make the magic happen because he trusts you”. Okanlawon’s co-star Gabriel Afolayan described him as a big magician while they were on set and respected him a lot for how he carried them along as actors.
Mo Abudu, Bandele’s close collaborator and friend’s reaction to the news of his death succinctly captures his impact, worth ethic and person: “It is with deep sadness that we commiserate with the family of Biyi Bandele who died on Sunday, 7th August 2022 in Lagos. Biyi worked with us at EbonyLife Media, directing several of our projects, including 'Fifty' (2015), 'Blood Sisters', episodes 1 & 2 (2022), and the forthcoming film Elesin Oba, The King's Horseman, for which he wrote the screenplay. Elesin Oba will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Biyi had an eye for a story, was always passionate about his work, and had a great love for Yoruba culture. We will miss his dedication, cheerful spirit, and collaborative nature. Rest in peace, dear friend”.
Bandele was an exceptional filmmaker with an aptitude for a vast range of genres. As a person, you were hanging out with your favourite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and of course, the greatest goonie ever. Surely, Nigeria's film and creative industry have suffered a profound loss with the passing of Biyi Bandele. In addition to making some of the best films out of Africa, he was undoubtedly a powerhouse, one who looked to constantly scale new frontiers and push the boundaries with everything he laid his hands upon. His flowing locs, charming smile, creative eye and adoring personality will be sorely missed but his memory will remain firmly etched in our memories and hearts through his various riveting works.