We spotlight our favourite Netflix Naija movies of the year.
2020 has been an awfully long year for all of us. This year felt like it somehow managed to squeeze in a decade of content — heartbreak and joy — into 350 days and counting. There were highs and lows and the highs were really high. This year, film and TV mavericks, Netflix, finally fully set foot in the Nigerian market, establishing a partnership with Nollywood to tap into the vast production potential of Nigerian stories and storytelling.
“Netflix Naija” launched in February 2020 via a twitter announcement on its official twitter handle @NetflixNaija, paying homage to some of Nigeria’s finest film and TV content creators.
After an extremely eventful 2020, we’ve reviewed some of our favorite Nigerian films released on the Netflix platform. From the brave stories of Moremi in Citation and Òlòtūré in Òlòtūré to the occult thriller that is Living in Bondage, these are our five picks of some of the best Nigerian film content since the introduction of Netflix Naija.
COMING FROM INSANITY (2019)
Coming From Insanity is a remarkable watch. That’s out of the way. Now, let’s discuss how well it tells all the stories it mandated itself to tell. Film is essentially storytelling, but film is entirely about telling stories worth telling. This film’s plot justifies the worthiness of this story to be told, considering that it touches on topics and themes that are pertinent to Nigerians (and West Africans) as a whole.
Principally, there are two topics the storyline of this film encapsulates — and both of them are criminal activities. The first is the profitable but insidious trading of children as servants or slaves across West Africa and maybe beyond, but usually to Nigeria. The second is financial crime, which is usually committed online these days, but this picture’s subject matter happens to be a true-life story.
Gabriel Afolayan plays a Togolese “house boy” (the colloquial Nigerian term for a male servant) named Kossi with a level of intellect that usually either spurs you to a decent life with decent earnings or a life of glitz and glamour, littered with financial extravagance. The story depicts a financial come-up in the same dimension with famous protagonists or tragic heroes in classic films like Tony Montana in Scarface and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. A life of crime, in reality, is terrible, having to continually look over your shoulder in suspicion that law enforcement might be on your trail, but in the world of film, crime and criminals make for golden content. Take silver screen masterpieces like the Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas. Kossi’s intellect sees him becoming a criminal mastermind in the art of dollar bill forgery. The wealth that follows such an area of expertise is life-changing, and that’s exactly what happens with Kossi. The writers did well to throw in a lot of intertwining drama and evoke a reasonable level of emotion and empathy for the protagonist and some of the characters closest to him.
Altogether, bar one or two bits of shoddy acting, Coming from Insanity pieces together pretty decently, and it’s one of the more exciting Nigerian movies of recent times. Kick back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy this one, but while you’re at it, join us in deciphering the title of this movie.
2020 has been full of surprises, both positive and negative. The tail end of the year has been no different. The stunning Temi Otedola recently made her debut in the world of film. Scripted by Tunde Babalola (who previously worked on films like Mukalik and October 1) and directed by Kunle Afolayan of critical acclaim, Citation is an explosive exposé of the predatory nature of male lecturers in Nigerian universities. If you’re willing to overlook the fact that a movie with a female protagonist who experiences a type of trauma more common to women was written by a man, then Citation would end up a very captivating watch.
One thing the movie does exceedingly well is replicating the ambience of a Nigerian public tertiary institution, complete with the socioeconomic diversity that usually exists in such places. Capturing the atmosphere of the tertiary institutions goes way beyond aesthetic gratification. This movie (based on a true story) puts the immediate reality of sexual harassment in such environments on blast for everyone to see and discuss because topics start conversations, and conversations start actions. Pat Nebo does a great job with the movie’s artistic direction, incorporating beautiful patterns and murals common to Nigerian public tertiary institutions. As far as aesthetics go, the movie equally does an excellent job of showing how beautiful Africa is. The scenes featuring movement in places like Dakar and Cape Verde display a stunning array of African architectural beauty.
Citation is a brilliantly told story. The movie boasts of a cleverly sequenced plot that invokes a sense of empathy within the viewer. The story largely relies on and makes use of the campus setting, but it didn’t limit itself to that, showing other brilliant and breathtaking sceneries. The characters are distinct and well thought out. There are a few moments of questionable acting, but overall, this serves as an excellent debut for Temi Otedola. Besides Temi Otedola, the movie features a diverse and somewhat stellar cast with some local veterans like Joke Silva, Yomi Fash Lanso, Sadiq Daba, and Haitian-American actor Jimmy Jean-Louis.
THE LOST OKOROSHI (2019)
The world is full of people, and amongst these people, cultures exist. Within these cultures are legends and stories that make up the belief systems and antiquity of these people. These are the things legacies and culture are made of. Some of the stories, legends, and traditional practices become extremely popular and become immortalized in modern times through constant art and media exposure. Take the Greeks and the Romans. For example, their pantheon of deities has become so popular with the contemporary world that everything worth naming has been named after them, planets and constellations inclusive. However, in the region referred to as Nigeria, the original cultures and their traditional practices and religions haven’t had the same fortune. They have been mainly relegated to the background, and The Lost Okoroshi, directed by Abba Makama, makes a “spirited” attempt to make a case for them.
According to eastern Nigerian tradition, Okoroshi masks of the Igbos are physical manifestations of the Owu water-spirit cult, worn during the wet season. The Lost Okoroshi attempts to introduce ancient spiritual or magical phenomena to a modern setting, in a vaguely similar fashion to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The protagonist is an Igbo man working as a security officer in Lekki, Lagos, and so it’s understandable that eyebrows were raised when Seun Ajayi, a Yoruba native of Ijebu-Ibefun, Ogun State was cast as Raymond. Regardless, his performance was believable and, in some regard, lightly humorous. As the protagonist goes about his seemingly mundane life, he fortuitously meets with circumstances he never imagined he would ever be in. The movie posits that the difference between other ancient gods that are popular and our local deities is “packaging” with less than subtle style. The film uses a character known as Willy-Willy to explain that to the Okoroshi masquerade. He shows him a picture captioned “The only difference between Sango and Thor is packaging”, further pushing the case for a rebranding or revival of traditional “African Spiritual Archetypes”.
Overall, it’s a decent watch, but one can’t help but feel like the movie was a bit drawn out with many unnecessarily lengthy scenes. It feels like the movie would have hit harder as a straightforward short film. The film also focuses heavily on setting its ambience with soundtracks that cut through almost every minute of the film to a fault.
LIVING IN BONDAGE: BREAKING FREE (2019)
If you’re an avid Nollywood viewer, especially if you started from the 1990s and the early 2000s, the horror genre shouldn’t be uncommon. Scenes of occult meetings, hooded men and women, blood sacrifices, chickens, horns, goblets, you name it. The millennial and early Gen Z Nollywood fan base know these tropes too well. Ramsey Nouah’s Living in Bondage: Breaking Free touches all grounds in bringing the infamous “get rich quick through occult means, pay for it dearly with personal loss, insanity or death” trope to modern film viewers in Nigeria.
Swanky J.K.A stars as a relatively new face amid a supporting cast of veterans and Nigerian silver screen icons like Ramsey Nouah, Kenneth Okonkwo, Kanayo O. Kanayo, and Bob-Manuel Udokwu. In the same fashion in which Swanky happens to be relatively new amongst the cast members, the plot revolves around a protagonist who happens to be a newbie to the world of wealth and opulence. While the storyline of Living in Bondage is something we might’ve seen in 90s or early 2000s Nollywood, it’s undeniable that the movie brings all the themes of the horror genre of former times into the present quite seamlessly — with better visual effects (albeit still with room for improvement), plot extraction, and acting amongst other things. The movie also explored the theme of brotherhood, making an enduring bond between the protagonist and his brother, played by Shawn Faqua.
It is worthy to note the relationship between Living in Bondage: Breaking Free and older incarnations of this popular Nigerian genre is more than just a conceptual transition. This movie is quite literally a sequel to a 1992/93 Nigerian two-part drama thriller film directed by Chris Obi Rapu, starring Kenneth Okonkwo and Nnenna Nwabueze in what would happen to be their breakout parts. In this sense, it literally receives the baton from an older generation of movies.
It opened with N25 million on November 8, 2019, and towards the end of the year, it had crossed the N100 million mark, establishing itself as a member of the top 12 highest-grossing Nigerian films of all time. Living in Bondage: Breaking Free is a great watch and fits nicely into the category of movies one should watch to keep track of the burgeoning Nigerian film culture.
“Movies enable us to see the world through other eyes — a policewoman, a mafia don, a World War II soldier, a Jedi knight. Some movies have the power to do more: to lift us out of our self-absorption and show us the world in a new way.” — InterVarsity Studentsoul
The wave of socially conscious blockbuster films that tell the stories of seldom discussed and poorly understood facets of society is here to stay. Òlòtūré, in the same vein as films like The Set-Up and Citation, tells a story that older culture might have conditioned us to avoid — one that has been a subject of taboo thanks to a heavy-handed culture of morality in Nigeria. The movie explores, with a sometimes triggering intricacy, the underground world of prostitution, the insidious processes of sexual trafficking, and the evils like rape, abuse, drugging, smuggling, and even murder that follow it.
Òlòtūré, when translated from Idoma (a language native to the people of Benue, Nigeria), means “Endurance”, which is quite befitting considering the movie’s storyline. Directed by Kenneth Gyang, this movie tells of how a young investigative journalist, Ehi (played by Sharon Ooja) goes on a covert investigative journey to uncover the dark ecosystem of human trafficking and sex slavery. In the process, she encounters some unprecedented and scarring truths as well as traumatizing experiences. Sex workers (usually forced into the business either by condition or coercion) fall into the trademark lifestyle of sex work and litter the streets in search of customers and, in turn, money while fantasizing about a better life in Europe, with Italy — a place that has grown in notoriety for sex trafficking and slavery. Nevertheless, to many, the subjugation of sex slavery and trafficking seems like a better alternative to living in Nigeria, especially with the rising levels of poverty. This is also a huge, nationwide problem the film sheds a light on. The movie is best judged and enjoyed by you, the viewer, but it definitely makes for a thought-provoking watch and sets itself up for a sequel as well.