Here's a carefully curated list of ten individuals that we think should have their own biopics.
Biographical films can be one of the best ways to tell a story. Regardless of whether the stories are completely accurate or not, they provide an insight into a person's choices, the events that defined them, and their pursuit of happiness. While it seems like biographical films or "biopics" are a recent trend in African cinema, this type of storytelling has been used for decades in Hollywood and Bollywood.
High production costs and lack of resources may have been the major obstacles preventing African filmmakers from telling Biopics. However, there seems to be a renewed interest recently as audiences and filmmakers alike are fascinated with recreations of the past that explore those who have come before us, whether they are vilified or admired. Watching these movies is primarily motivated by curiosity. The audience is interested in knowing what motivated them to live their lives the way they did.
While regular fiction or fantasy movies allow us to escape our reality, biopics allow us to face our (sometimes common) pasts. They allow us to celebrate and rediscover each other as human beings.
To further encourage the need for Biopics, we have made a list of ten Biopics films that should be made by African filmmakers.
Olabisi Ajala (Ajala The Traveler)
Every avid Nigerian traveller or globetrotter has been referred to as Ajala by their friends, families, or acquaintances at least once. Some even use the designation in their pseudonyms; for example, Ajalabug, Wondering Ajala, Ajalaman, The travelling Ajala. This vocabulary that has become so familiar and part of the Nigerian travel lingua still has little or less known about the origin of its name. a 26-year-old student of psychology, Mashood Olabisi Ajala embarked on a trip across 40 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa on his Vespa scooter wearing his full conspicuous agbada regalia with a cap to match. As a pre-medical student, Olabisi has previously undertaken a similar jaunt four years ago in the USA pedalling from Chicago to Los Angeles on a bicycle covering 3,800 miles in 35 days over ten cities. His journey which he nicknamed “This Safari” covered 30,000 miles across 40 countries in nine months and he returned to London afterwards.
He visited eighty-seven countries in his six-year globetrotting trip (ranging from North America to Eastern and Western Europe, through Africa and Asia and as far east as Korea, Indonesia and Australia). He documented all this in his book- “The African Abroad”.
Kanu Nwankwo (Papilo)
For decades Africa was an untapped resource for the world’s biggest football clubs. However in the 90s, a Nigerian national treasure, Nwankwo Kanu signed for Inter Milan, one of Italy's greatest football clubs and then later Arsenal.
Kanu’s career saw him lead Nigeria to success on the international stage, win European honours and overcome a career-threatening medical issue to cement his status as a cult figure in the Premier League.
His rise began at Nigerian side Iwuanyanwu Nationale where a splurge of goals earned him a Nigerian Premier League winners’ medal and inclusion in the national side at the youth level, forming part of a talented team that travelled to the u17 World Cup in 1993.
The tournament saw Kanu shoot to prominence, as he hit a hat-trick in the opening fixture as Nigeria thrashed Canada 8-0. Nigeria then dismantled Argentina 4-0 in their next fixture and progressed without conceding a single goal, their talismanic forward netting five times in three group fixtures.
A Story about an African football legend like Kanu Nwankwo would definitely be a cinema blockbuster and a positive image for the nation.
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
In the year 1965, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti received the national honour of membership in the Order of Nigeria. She was also bestowed the honorary doctorate of laws by the University of Ibadan in the year 1968. Throughout her career, Funmilayo was known as an educator and activist. She joined forces with Elizabeth Adekogbe in providing leadership for women’s rights in the 1950s. She founded an organization for women in Abeokuta that had more than 20,000 women as members; including both literate and illiterate women.
In the year 1949, she led a protest against the Alake of Egbaland, a native authority. She then made a presentation of documents alleging abuse of power by the Alake; whom the then government, granted the right to collect the taxes. She also led a movement that oversaw the successful abolishing of separate tax rates for women.
The trend of Nigerians dominating several spaces and shining on the world stage didn't start in the 2000s. Hakeem Olajuwon, a legendary basketballer, is one of those that trailed this path by hustling his way from Mushin in Lagos State to become an NBA star in America. Basketball is not a sport that a lot of young Africans love to play but Hakeem defied the odds by becoming the first African to be globally recognized in this sport.
Hakeem Olajuwon started as a soccer goalkeeper in primary school and never got to play basketball until the age of 15 in his Mushin secondary school where he entered a local tournament. Hakeem Olajuwon’s story ー one that had successfully managed to influence culture both at home and abroad ー is an inspirational, and it is one that deserves to be properly documented and told.
Born with HIV, Nkosi Johnson’s story helped to change the public’s perception of HIV and AIDS. At the age of 8 years old Johnson was discriminated against for his illness when he was denied entry to school because of his condition. Johnson’s family was outspoken against the discrimination and South Africa’s laws eventually changed to include anti-discriminatory policies.
As a result of this, Johnson became a child AIDS activist and campaigned for the equal treatment of those living with the disease. At just 11 years old he became the youngest keynote speaker at the International AIDS conference in 2000, where he delivered an address that would go down in history. "Care for us and accept us, we are all human beings,” he said. “We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, and we have needs just like everyone else. Don't be afraid of us — we are all the same."
Johnson died from AIDS at the age of 12 one year later, and in his honour the International Children's Peace Prize was created.
Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta was born in 1944, a time when there was a gender bias towards women. While she stayed at home, her younger brother was allowed to go to school. Buchi’s dream of becoming a writer came alive through an older aunt who told her stories during dinner. The opportunity came when a year after her father died; she got a full scholarship to attend the Methodist Girls School.
Her writing explored topics such as child marriage, single motherhood, and women's abuse. As a celebrated and successful author, she lectured at Yale University, and the University of London; as well as holding a fellowship at the University of London in 1986. Some of her books include; The Joys of Motherhood (1979), Second-Class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), and The Slave Girl (1977). She published over 20 books, including children’s fiction. She also wrote many plays for the BBC and several articles published in journals all over the world.
Barmani Choge was one of the best female Hausa singers from Northern Nigeria. She popularized the mature Hausa women's genre of music called Amada; which is centred around five upturned calabashes floating on water and played with the hands by elderly women. Without fear of tradition or religion, her songs talked about serious social issues; like women’s education and the importance of small-scale trading by women; to vulgar topics like co-wives as idle snobs, voluptuous women’s backsides, etc. The core message of her song is that women should get up and shine in this male-dominated world.
Barmani Choge’s performances appeal to women in high society; due to her courage and how she takes on issues that other conventional women musicians avoid. Her music did not only make women dance, but it also made them think about their status in society.
After nearly a decade of military rule, democratic elections were held in Nigeria on June 12, 1993. Abiola ran as the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party in a two-party race. Observers declared the election to have been the freest and fairest in Nigerian history. Initial results indicated that Abiola, who had garnered votes across ethnic and religious divides, would be the clear winner of the election. Before the official results were announced, however, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, the military leader, annulled the election. This provoked a political crisis. Abiola rallied domestic and international support in claiming the presidency that he appeared to have won, which led to his 1994 arrest on a charge of treason by the military regime then led by Gen. Sani Abacha.
During his imprisonment, Abiola was deprived of outside news and subjected to solitary confinement and abuse that included negligent medical care. His release seemed imminent following the death of General Abacha in June 1998. A story about MKO Abiola is definitely long overdue as a huge part of Nigeria’s political history revolves around his life and time. Hopefully, a Nigerian filmmaker approaches his estate in other to properly document his life through cinema.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Perhaps the most popular face on this list, Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s story is well documented through books, documentaries, podcasts, journals and stage plays but a feature film about his life and time is yet to be made. Also known as Abami Eda, Fela Kuti was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, political activist, and Pan-Africanist. He is regarded as the pioneer of Afrobeat, an African music genre that combines West African music with American funk and jazz. At the height of his popularity, he was referred to as one of Africa's most "challenging and charismatic music performers".
Kuti was the son of Nigerian women's rights activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. After early experiences abroad, he and his band Africa 70 (featuring drummer and musical director Tony Allen) shot to stardom in Nigeria during the 1970s, during which he was an outspoken critic and target of Nigeria's military juntas. In 1970, he founded the Kalakuta Republic commune, which declared itself independent from military rule. The commune was destroyed in a 1978 raid. He was jailed by the government of Muhammadu Buhari in 1984 but released after 20 months. He continued to record and perform through the 1980s and 1990s.
The story of Osagefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah is of enormous importance to the independence struggle of Ghana, Africa and to all people of Africa and people of black heritage. He was one of the founders of the Pan Africanist movement which was formed to liberate Africans and people of African heritage from oppression. His legacy continues to live on today. Ghanaian filmmakers should challenge themselves to take up his story to produce a biopic of this illustrious son of the motherland.
Kwame Nkrumah’s story could be taken from different dimensions like from his childhood, his adult life, the point of view of his children, his political career or his time as the President of Ghana. All these can be taken into consideration which could eventually reduce cost and time since just an aspect of his life will be concentrated on.