Photo credit: Hamisha Daryani Ahuja

Film & TV

Hamisha Daryani Ahuja on Nollywood, Bollywood and her new Netflix Series, Postcards

Photo credit: Hamisha Daryani Ahuja

An interview with STATEMENT CEO and Founder, Areej Noor, and the director / producer of Netflix’s new series, Postcards, Hamisha Daryani Ahuja

By Areej Noor

May 2024

Hamisha Daryani Ahuja is a multi-talented film producer, director, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and actress who has significantly impacted the Nollywood and Bollywood industries. As the founder of Forever 7 Entertainment, she has garnered global recognition for her directorial debut, Namaste Wahala, which she also executive produced. The film premiered worldwide as a Netflix Original in February 2021, making history as the first Nollywood movie to chart globally, including markets such as the U.K., U.S.A, and India.


Hamisha’s influence extends beyond filmmaking, as she has been sought after by renowned organizations such as Coca-Cola, Entrepreneurs Network, and Miss Nigeria, solidifying her reputation as a charismatic motivational speaker. In addition to her achievements in the entertainment industry, Hamisha founded and managed the award-winning Bistro 7, a chain of restaurants in Lagos, for seven years before its acquisition in January 2019.


In an exclusive interview with STATEMENT’S CEO and Founder, Areej Noor, Hamisha discussed the influence of her cultural upbringing on her filmmaking journey, the seamless transition from restaurateur to filmmaker, and her aspirations to break barriers and foster collaborations across Bollywood, Nollywood, and Hollywood.


Can you tell us about your upbringing in Lagos and how it influenced your career path specifically in film? 


I was born in India, but I moved here when I was a baby. That’s why I say I’m an Indian living in Nigeria, I would say that’s my identity. And yeah, that was a big, big influence on the film industry because as I grew up, of course, I watched a lot of Bollywood content, but so did a lot of my friends. So Bollywood has been a huge influence in Nigeria.


I mean, as much as I was living in Nigeria in Lagos, I very much had an Indian upbringing, eating Indian food at home, watching Indian content. You know, it was just my way of life. 


So while I was in the beginning stages of my restaurant, I went to this place called Awesomeness Fest, created by Vichen Lakhiani. It was on my vision board when I came across him talking. He does a lot of these motivational speeches. He was one of those, you know, “think big” people. It was TEDx meets Burning Man. Lisa Nichols was there and she’s someone I’ve always watched because I really believe in the law of attraction.  I actually flew out and trained with her in LA after Awesome Fest because I was just so intrigued by the whole situation. And so that’s when I decided to start doing my own workshop. 


So I would have these small bespoke workshops in the restaurant where I’d invite people some, you know, companies would come in, they would attend, and it almost became like a sort of like forum, because when you got in there, I mean, the kind of people that were there, so we had like people from Google, we had the head of Coke, they’d all come in, and then they’d tell me to come into their companies and start training their teams. 


So this was something that I was just doing on the side, but it just got bigger on its own. 


Truly fascinating. How does your work as a restaurateur and entrepreneur inform your filmmaking?


Food has always been a very big part of my culture in my life, and I wanted to make sure everybody is fed well. So like, for example, as my ninth year in India, I want double the food that you normally have. 


Everyone needs their energy. You know, the small things are the big things. I learned that because those are the things that sometimes did get missed. Like one missing prop or one missing costume at one point held up [production] for like five hours. And so those kinds of things. So, the people that I hired, I brought that up, I’m like, listen, do you have a backup to that? Do you have this? Can you see? So we were a lot more organized, a lot more prepared, backed up a little bit in terms of what could go wrong.


Now one of the things I didn’t do in the restaurant, which I make sure I do now, in all my sets and you can speak to anybody, even the crew, the cast, you have to meditate for two minutes before we start, before we roll camera. And we do a gratitude circle. 


Namaste Wahala was your directorial debut. What were some of the challenges you faced during the production process and how did you overcome them? 


Literally my first day on set was my first day on set ever. I went in as a complete, complete figure. I had never experienced it, but I was very open. And I think that that helped.


I would feel like producing was very overlapping and aligned with the business models in Nigeria. So that wasn’t too much of a culture shock or a shock for me because I was able to apply what I’d learned doing business in the restaurant to doing business in the movie.


But we do have to deal with things like, for example, backup generators or like NEPA just going and then, NEPA just went and then the lights and what’s amazing is the crew here, the people here know how to handle that. 


In Namaste, Wahala, you portrayed a character in addition to your role as director, how did you balance these dual responsibilities, especially given this was your first film? 


So when I told you that as a kid I always wanted to get in the film industry, it was always to act. And so I did that for that little girl, like, you know, how can I not? 


When I was chatting with the writers in the workshop, I said, it needs to be a small role. 


It didn’t turn out to be. I did learn that I was in over my head, especially on the days that I was acting, because I was playing a lot of the directed producer roles. I’d be so frustrated because I couldn’t move, because we were sort of rolling or we had to do another take and they needed the lighting and all sorted. So I couldn’t then go and be like, hey, where’s the makeup people? Or where’s costume? Or are we ready for the next shot?


As a filmmaker, how do you navigate the complexities of cultural representation and avoid stereotypes while portraying diverse characters and narratives, especially in these two meccas of representation in the entertainment industry? 


It was important that Nollywood and Bollywood came together. You may be from a different country or a different industry, but we’re equal, you know? And I think that that was very important. By no means do I want any form of feeling like one industry or one country or one culture was superior. 


I feel sometimes Lagos gets disservice in the media as a kind of place. You know Africa is not just, you know, beggars in the streets. I live in Nigeria, it’s my home. We have beautiful restaurants, we have really nice locations. And it was important for everyone to see that.


So for example, even with the mothers-in-law, when I cast both the mothers-in-law, it was very important that both are very strong women, because that is a representation of Nigeria and India, you have very strong women. 


As a female director in a male dominated industry, what are some of the challenges you’ve encountered and how do you overcome them? 


I feel like I fought that battle in the restaurant. Again, I was there for seven years, dealt with it all though. So it feels like it’s part of my past life. What’s so cool about Nollywood is there are a lot of women leaders.


There are a lot of women at the top in this industry. And actually, that’s not the case in Bollywood. So when I was there, yes, I did find it very male. I mean, my crew were majority male. But it’s taking time because people who have more experience are men. And now women are actively getting in there.


When you talk to the biggest actresses in Hollywood who worked with every director like the top one percent of actresses they always say they know when they’re on a woman set you know there’s just a lot less bs and a lot more availability for what needs to happen as a team. 


Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of Nigerian cinema? If you want to also talk about your aspirations for your place in the Bollywood canon, how do you envision your role in the trajectories of these two industries?


I think the beauty is there’s just so much potential and I want to continue doing what I’m doing. I love it. I mixed Bollywood and Nollywood together. I want to keep doing that.


I mean there’s no reason why we can’t throw in a third culture, a fourth culture. For example, next week I’m going to Kenya to a location [for my] reality show. And that’s a third culture right there. I’m so excited. There’s so many Indians living there.


We just have so much overlap and I love playing with that. And, you know, sort of having fun with the differences as well as the similarities. Hollywood as well. I do think that we’re in big need for a nice collaboration there as well. 


I want to keep sort of breaking barriers in the sense that it’s important to go big or go home. 


So finally, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and public speakers based on your many experiences and successes in these industries? 


[My] advice to people who want to get into the industry or who want to just do anything that they’re scared of. If you’re scared, do it anyway. 


And if you’re not scared, I sometimes think it’s not worth it. And I realize that now when something is scaring me a little, it’s more exciting. 


And I think that with that fear, the biggest learning I had is to try and switch that fear to adrenaline, because when you’re fearful of something or you’re worried, you prepare more. You’re more excited. The stakes are higher. 


Even if it’s doing one thing every day that gets you closer to your goal, do it in the night, like in the middle of the night, like something, even if it’s reading an article, just something that gets you there. 


I hire superpower people now. I’m no more intimidated by, oh my God, if you’re smarter than me, that’s not cool. I want you to be smarter than me if I hire you now, at least in the part that you’re doing, right? 


So those are the things I learned. Again, it’s a journey, but definitely go for it.


Postcards, will be released on Netflix on May 3rd. It follows the compelling stories of four individuals whose life’s journeys are filled with a rollercoaster of emotions – from joy to frustration, from grief to triumph, from love to heartbreak, and everything in between.

Photo Credit: The Walt Disney Studios

Film & TV

Olufikayo Adeola On Disney’s Iwájú As A Tool For Representation

Photo Credit: The Walt Disney Studios

African animation ignites a new era of creativity and collaboration.

By Wale Oloworekende

April 2024

African animation is going through something of a golden age. In 2023, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire, an afro-fusionist animated short film series produced by South African animation studio, Triggerfish, premiered on Disney+ in a major boost to the continent’s nascent comics and animation industry.  Less than a year after the groundbreaking release of  Kizazi Moto, Disney announced the long-awaited release of Iwájú, another first-of-its-kind collaboration with the Pan-African British production house, Kugali Media. 


Founded by three friends Olufikayo ‘Ziki’ Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim. and Tolu Olowofoyeku, Kugali initially started as a podcast service to discuss the African comics and animation industry. “We were interviewing different creators across Africa to understand the African creator space,” Adeola tells STATEMENT in a chat over Zoom one Monday in April. “It became obvious to us that what was needed was a company that could be a platform for African storytellers.” 


Initially focusing on creating comic books for an ever-expanding African and diaspora audience, Kugali caught the attention of Walt Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer Jennifer Lee when she read a BBC feature about the animation studio and their ambition to “kick Disney’s arse” in Africa. Impressed by the scale of their dreams, Disney set up a line of communication with Kugali with the hopes of collaborating on a future project. 


A little over four years down the line from that bold affirmation of competing vigorously with Disney in Africa, Kugali has teamed up with the animation giant to release Iwájú, a modern animated limited series set in Lagos that pays homage to the West African city’s indomitable spirit and sets a new course for African comics and animation. 


STATEMENT spoke to the director of Iwájú, Olufikayo ‘Ziki’ Adeola, about teaming up with Disney for the series, the complexity of representing Lagos for a global audience, and the role of Iwájú as a beacon of light for African animation’s unfurling golden age. 


How did Kugali Media come about?


Kugali’s origin story dates back to 2012. We were always interested in telling local stories at a global standard with proper details. We first started as a podcast and it was just Tolu (Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku) and I at the time. We were interviewing different creators across Africa to understand the African creator space, particularly comic books and animation. It became obvious to us that what was needed was a company that could be a platform for African storytellers. That’s what Kugali was trying to be for storytellers like myself as well as the other writers, artists, and creators in Kugali. It was around that time that Hamid (Ibrahim) joined. Tolu and I went to primary school together. Hamid found our podcast online and reached out to us, he became a co-founder and the rest is history. 


There’s a famous interview you did with the BBC in 2018 where Hamid predicted that you’d compete with Disney in terms of African stories. Was there a model in place for telling those stories at that time? 


Around the time of doing that interview, our focus was on comic books. We started off publishing comic books. At that time, we were known for the Kugali Anthology which was the first pan-African collection of comics from creators across the continent. At the time, we’d done Anthology One and Anthology Two, and we were beginning to work on Anthology Three. It was around that time that we heard from Disney. Our initial thoughts were centred on the comic book model where we would create books that could be turned into movies, video games, and animation. What Disney ended up doing was providing us with an opportunity to fast-track into animation. 


How have you navigated the fast-tracking that comes with working with Disney? 


It’s been very challenging because I liken it to being thrown into the deep end. Before working with Disney, I’d never written or directed in a professional capacity on that scale. I’d written screenplays and directed some stage plays when I was in school but nothing that came close to this sort of experience. I sometimes describe it as a baptism of fire because I had to figure out my job and what was expected of me whilst learning on the job. There was also the challenge of working with a company as old and powerful as Disney because Kugali is very young; so, there was a clash of cultures. Also, when you collaborate with someone creatively, you’re going to feel strongly about some elements and your collaborators are going to feel the same way about some things so there’s bound to be creative conflict. At the end of the day, those differences help to make the result stronger and allow you to grow as a person and company. 


Can you expand on some of the cultural nuances that you knew had to be present in Iwájú


I think Iwájú is unique because it’s one of the few Disney animation productions that has characters talking with a different kind of accent. With a lot of Disney shows, even if they’re not set in America, there is a uniformity in how they speak. I was adamant about Iwájú being different because it was based on real-life Lagos and the people on the ground in the city even though it was set in the future. That cultural specificity and recognizability needed to be in the show. I think Disney deserves credit because there was a lot of willingness on their part to understand our culture and the way we do things but, also, as an over 100-year-old company, they have a certain framework for doing things. I know that there were questions and discussions about the way a character would speak or if they should speak Yoruba or pidgin. Ultimately, we agreed that it was the way to go forward but it did take a few conversations to get them to understand what the overall vision was. 


On the creative side of things, we had different ideas on how the plot should unfold. Sometimes I felt strongly about certain things and, other times, my co-writer (Halima Hudson) felt strongly about other things. Ultimately, I think what made its way to the script represents the best of both of us. 


When did the conversation for Iwájú start and what was the timeline like? 


The conversations for Iwájú started around 2020 but our dialogue with Disney started earlier. We were invited to pitch multiple ideas to them and Iwájú was one of the three ideas we sent in. After that process, Iwájú was then selected because it was the idea that made the most sense for a limited TV series. We knew that Iwájú was going to be the idea we worked on around March 2020 and the initial production timeline we had was fairly ambitious. The first press releases we made suggested a release date at some point in 2023 but, between the pandemic and many other things happening, the show ended up coming out in 2024. So, the whole process took almost five years. 


A high point from the show was the authentic depiction of Lagos with elements like tricycles and traffic, how were you able to capture the essence of the city?


I think there are many layers to how we were able to preserve the authenticity of the city. First of all, I grew up in Lagos and I only left Lagos when I was 15, so I have the lived experience of having been in the city for my childhood and teenage years. In addition to that, many of the artists who worked on the show are from Lagos or have lived in Lagos at some point. Even the actors helped us bring that authenticity. There would be times when I’d written a piece of dialogue but the actor reading the dialogue would say that it wasn’t natural to them or suggest an alternative to make it sound better. Those little things helped the authenticity of the series and, in addition to that, we had cultural consultants who helped us. It was a team effort at the end of the day but having people with that Lagosian experience ultimately made it very comprehensive. 


Another thing that made the series fascinating was how the story was centred around life on both ends of the city on the mainland and island, was that an idea you always knew you’d explore or did it come as you wrote?


The way I feel about stories is that I like to take different elements and have fun figuring out how they’ll fit into a larger piece. With  Iwájú for example, I knew I always wanted to write about kidnapping in Lagos. The mainland-Island divide was another ingredient that I knew I wanted to write about at least three or four years predating  Iwájú. I’ve been fortunate to visit several countries and cities and there are always higher-class and lower-class neighbourhoods but Lagos is one of the few places in the world whose geography naturally supports that socio-economic divide. I find that fascinating because those are the sorts of things that science fiction authors would invent for their work but Lagos just has that. So, even before Iwájú came up, I knew it was something I would want to explore and, when the opportunity came along, I knew it was the right time to tackle this theme. 


Historically, Nigerian and African comics and animation have not enjoyed this level of support and patronage, do you think Iwájú is going to encourage more investment?


I like to make a comparison with afrobeats because I remember when D’Banj’s “Oliver Twist” came out in 2021 and it was the first time a Nigerian song was topping the charts in the United Kingdom. From then on, it’s just been an avalanche. We’re not just big in Africa, we’re big globally and I think Iwájú is going to be the beginning of a similar trend with African comics and animation. Projects like Iwájú and Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire are the first Triple-A animated projects to have emerged from the continent, or at least [to] be created by people from Africa. The reviews have been solid and the numbers have looked strong so it shows them that people have an appetite for these stories. I believe that if we have this conversation 10 years from now, there’ll be a plethora of animated movies and shows set in Africa and defined by African culture in the same way that we saw this transformation from music from 2012 till today. 


What comes next for Kugali?


As I mentioned earlier, we started with comic books and our work with comic books is going to continue. We have a publishing deal with Disney where we are partnering with them on an imprint named Kugali Inc. Through Kugali Inc., we’ll be releasing a series of graphic novels over the next five years with the first novel coming out towards the end of this year or early next year. We are also looking at doing another project on the scale of Iwájú soon, another Triple-A animated project and we’re hopeful of making an announcement soon. 

Photo credit: AP Images

Film & TV

The Top 2023 Cultural Moments Across the Continent

Photo credit: AP Images

2023 marked the pinnacle of Africa’s cultural renaissance, showcasing its global rise and creativity across diverse forms

By Wale Oloworekende

December 2023

If African cultural cachet has been on the rise since the tail-end of the 2010s, 2023 was the year when it reached the peak of that global ascendancy across diverse forms, giving credence to the idea that Africa is at the cutting edge of global cultural inspiration and execution despite the structural issues confronting creators on the continent. From music to fashion, art, sport, and film, cultural output from the continent has made a huge leap in quality led by an eager diaspora keen to change the narrative surrounding Africa and help facilitate a humane and contextual understanding of the continent. 


At STATEMENT, we compiled a list of some of the moments that have piqued our interest and have deeper significance for Africa’s reputation as a future cultural powerhouse. 


Mami Wata’s International Success 


African cinema’s big year kicked off with C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s Mami Wata premiering at Sundance to rave reviews in January 2023. The movie, based on West African folklore, was a victory for indie filmmaking and picked up the Special Jury Prize in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance for its cinematography, and has continued to receive rave reviews across the world for its ingenuity and socio-political commentary. Additionally, Mami Wata has played in major cinemas in the United Kingdom, United States, and more since its theatrical release. 


Rema’s Historic Billboard Hot 100 Run


When Rema released his debut album, Raves & Roses, last year, it was seen as a major landmark for the Mavin star, who has been at the forefront of Afropop’s next-gen since his introduction in 2019. However, few would have predicted the global success of “Calm Down,” one of the album’s lead singles. After initially debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 2022, “Calm Down” has gone on to become Afrobeats’ biggest crossover hit and in June 2023, it hit a stunning peak of number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Additionally, the Selena Gomez-featuring remix of “Calm Down” has crossed over 1 billion streams on Spotify, joining the platform’s prestigious Billions Club.  


Amoako Baoafo’s New York Solo Debut With Gagosian 


This year, art from Africa made its big splash on the global stage, entering spaces that were previously considered out of reach for creative work from the continent. Earlier this year, Ghanaian visual artist, Amoako Baoafo, held a solo exhibition at the Gagosian New York titled what could go wrong, if we tell it like it is. Following in the footsteps of some of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, Baoafo’s showcase, which featured large-scale portraits commemorating friendship and black identity, was a groundbreaking moment for African art as it’s one of the few major galleries to showcase an exhibition by an African-born artist. It was also the first time a major gallery would collaborate with an African artist to stage a show in Africa with Baoafo’s showcase coming to dot.ateliers, his artistic space in Accra following its display period in New York. 


Tems’ Dress At The Oscars 


The Nigerian singer was nominated in the Best Original Song category at the 95th edition of the Oscars that took place in March 2023. Tems turned heads with her ethereal white gown from LA-based Lever Couture. A prominent feature of the dress was its headgear, which was deemed to be obstructing the view of other attendees in the gallery by many on social media, and it sparked a debate on whether it was an appropriate dress for the Oscars. This turned out to be a nice moment that emphasized the star power of Tems and the social media currency of Nigerians and Africans in general. 


Kamala Harris’ Visit To Vibrate Space 


Since its Year Of Return campaign in 2019, Ghana has steadily become the location of choice for members of the black diaspora looking to rekindle their ties to the continent. This year, United States Vice President Kamala Harris visited the country, becoming the Biden administration’s highest-profile official to visit the continent. And in recognition of the rising power of African culture, Vice President Harris stopped at the Vibrate Space in Accra, a creative spot where she held court with some of the country’s most innovative stars like Black Sherif and Amaarae. Her decision to visit highlights the growing appeal of African youth culture in the Western world, and represents the biggest intersection of Africa’s cultural scene and political authority in the West. 


Grammy African Category Announcement 


Beyond just breaking into the American market, receiving Grammy nominations has always been the preeminent goal for Afrobeats acts eager to make their mark on the global music scene. Over the years, several African acts like Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Black Coffee have received Grammy Awards in a number of categories. However, the continual nomination of African acts in the Best Global Music category was frustrating for many African music fans. In June, the Grammys announced the addition of a Best African Music Performance category ahead of the 2024 edition of the awards, showing the growth of African music.. 

Some of the continent’s foremost acts, like Tyla, Asake, Davido, and Olamide, have been nominated for the inaugural edition of the award. 


South Africa’s Rugby World Cup Win 


We’ve seen the Springboks–South Africa’s Rugby national team–win the Rugby World Cup four times, but seeing their triumphs doesn’t get old. After their last win in 2019, the Springboks, led by captain Siya Kolisi, clinched the biggest prize in rugby once again [this year], sparking celebrations in South Africa and across the continent as they remain the only African country to make it at the rugby’s world stage.


Disney+’s Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire 


Due to a dearth of funding, it’s quite rare that animated content tells the story of what is happening on the continent. The release of Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire in July 2023 by Disney+ was an important date for the continent’s fledging animation industry as 10 short stories inspired by African lore and customs were reinterpreted with futurist lens by some of the continent’s leading lights. From shorts like Moremi to First Totem Problems, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire presented a vision of Africa that was worth celebrating and helped propel African animation to global audiences. 


Release of The Black Book


The subtext of Editi Effiong’s feature directorial debut, The Black Book, might be the institutional decay that plagues the police force in his native Nigeria. Still, even that grimy circumstance could not dim the light of his masterpiece. A runaway Netflix hit, The Black Book has been a resounding success worldwide, with praise for the performance of its stacked cast. It has quickly become the most successful Nigerian movie on Netflix with over 70 million views and hit number one on Netflix charts in South Korea as well as breaking into the top 10 movies on Netflix globally. The film stands as a good omen for Nollywood and African productions in 2024.


Tyla’s Billboard Hot 100 Hit 


South African music has been on the rise recently thanks to the global popularity of amapiano. But South African music goes far beyond the wavy bass lines and log drums of amapiano with a vibrant soul and pop scene that is also taking off. This year, pop wunderkind Tyla made a global impact with her single, “Water.” Originally teased on TikTok, the single has gone on to be a monster hit, charting in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making her the first South African in 55 years to enter the chart. The song also reached number one in New Zealand and the top ten in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, UAE, Philippines, South Africa, Ireland and Sweden. “Water” also received a nomination in the Best African Music Performance at the 2024 Grammy Awards.

Photo Credit: Sundance Film Festival; Mami Wata

Film & TV

Exploring the African Films and TV That Defined 2023

Photo Credit: Sundance Film Festival; Mami Wata

As 2023 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on some of the cinematic wonders that created a stronger pulse for African cinema on the global stage

By Sughnen Yongo

December 2023

This year, the African film and television industry shone brightly, grabbing the attention of international film festivals and their sponsors, broadening the landscape for African storytelling and its impact on the global perception of Africa. Here are some of the African films and TV shows that defined 2023. 



C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s visually captivating thriller Mami Wata is a reimagined ode to West African folklore The phrase Mami Wata directly translates to “Mother Water” and refers to the reverence and worship of water spirits. Although the film is cast in black and white, its message is still vibrant and difficult to forget, which is part of the reason why this film tops our list of favorite African cinema outputs this year. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was also Nigeria’s official entry for the Best International Feature at the Oscars next year.




Upon its release, Gangs of Lagos triggered praise, controversy, and critical acclaim The film, which delves into the intricacies of street life in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, was the world’s portal into the crime and violence in the streets of Lagos The film, which is Jáde Osiberu’s brainchild, aired on Amazon, triggering a lot of conversation about perpetuating negative African stereotypes. Overall, the carefully curated cast and riveting storyline made this film one of the most memorable this year.




In African Folktales Reimagined, filmmakers from all over Africa collaborated to create a Netflix-friendly body of work. Although Folktales is rooted in traditional stories that pay homage to the traditions of old it is still curiously relatable to modern-day realities. The filmmakers, who hail from Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda and Mauritania, recreate a body of work that pays homage to each of these countries while still carrying a unified stance.




In Animalia, director Sofia Alaoui explores the interwoven elements of socio-cultural norms in a world where the arrival of aliens threatens life in Morocco, namely the life of a young pregnant woman. By dabbling in elements that may seem “otherworldly,” the film captures the core of themes that may seem otherworldly while maintaining its mysterious allure.




In Saint Omer, Alice Diop gives viewers an intimate exploration into the case of a troubled Senegalese mother standing trial for the premeditated murder of her 15-month-old child. The main character, Laurence Conly,  played by Guslagie Malanda, is accused of intentionally leaving her baby on a beach to be swept away by the aggressive water waves. The poignant story is based on real-life events, with slight adaptations to make it film-friendly. The storyline is simple enough; however, the film itself, which centers around the trial, highlights that life isn’t black-and-white, and the truth can present itself in gray areas.




The producers of Young, Famous & African brought together the glitziest cast to highlight African opulence on a whole other level. If there ever was a cinematic output on this list that fiercely defies the age-old idea that Africa is a dormant continent with few opportunities, this is it. The show’s casting directors were on an obvious mission when they selected specific, successful personalities from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, and Tanzania. One of the most stand-out elements of the show is the cast’s outfits, which are carefully curated expressions of luxury. Rife with drama, camaraderie, and occasional snobbiness, the show arguably secured its spot as one of the highest-rated African programs of the year.





After an illicit affair with a younger man turns tragic, a married woman becomes skeptical about the world around her. The South African thriller stars Kgomotso Christopher, Prince Grootboom, and Thapelo Mokoena, and it is as riveting as it is compelling. Fatal Seduction captures the essence of life and all of the ways that morality can be a skewed, altered, and complex reality, especially when passion is involved.




The psychological thriller, which premiered at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, follows the story of Marie (Babetida Sadjo), an African refugee who leads a quiet life in a small French town, but who is reminded of her dark past with the emergence of the charismatic Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane). Described as “stirring” and “a tour de force”, the film has received several awards, including Best Feature Narrative at the 2022 Indie Memphis Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2022 Heartland Film Festival.

Photo credit: Circle Film Entertainment


Film Review: Orah at AFRIFF

Photo credit: Circle Film Entertainment

A unique take on revenge that follows a Nigerian woman navigating crime and government corruption, while battling unspeakable grief

By Chisom Peter Job

November 2023

The film Orah, which opened the 12th edition of the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), begins with a deliberate and slow first act that introduces the characters and immerses us in their world. The life of a Nigerian immigrant in Toronto is juxtaposed with Orah’s hometown of Lagos, building our understanding of why she has made sacrifices that separated her from her son. Similar to other revenge films, in which a tragic event propels our protagonist into a quest for justice, Director Lonzo Nzekwe, differentiates Orah through its depiction of motherly love and the impact of grief. 


The narrative follows Orah Madukaku (Oyin Oladejo), who leaves Lagos for Toronto at 15, leaving her son Lucky (Emeka Nwagbaraocha) with his grandmother. Orah works as a taxi driver to make ends meet during the day, and on the side, helps a shady man launder money under the promise that he will bring Lucky to Toronto. 


Lucky’s journey to join his mother in Toronto takes an unexpected turn when he discovers that his visa and ticket come with a condition: smuggling drugs for Bami Hazar (Onyekachi Ejim), a wanted drug lord and money launderer. This revelation starkly contrasts with what Orah was initially told.


When Lucky refuses to participate in the drug smuggling and contacts his mother, a tragedy unfolds with two gunshots, solidifying the first act. The film delves into the theme of poverty creating inequality and explores the desperate measures people take to escape it, emphasizing the  ethical dilemmas faced by young Nigerians seeking opportunities abroad.


The second act focuses on Orah’s pursuit of justice, deviating from the typical revenge plot. Instead of immediately resorting to violence, Orah attempts a legal approach by gathering evidence to indict her son’s murderers and contacting the appropriate authorities. Despite a daring visit to Hazar’s family, showcasing her determination, the film highlights the challenges she faces from those trying to silence her.


Though inconsistent, Orah transitions between Lagos and Toronto, using a sepia filter in Lagos scenes. While occasionally awkward, the cinematography allows the actors to shine, with Oyin Oladejo delivering a compelling performance, maneuvering between unbearable grief and anger with a remarkable authenticity.


Setting itself apart from typical Nollywood films in its genre, Orah avoids the clichéd fight scenes, and instead focuses on the emotional toll required to pursue justice through the law, acknowledging the difficulties in a country like Nigeria, where systemic issues often favor the wealthy. The film addresses the theme of corruption, encapsulating it with the recurring notion that “everyone has a price.” 


In the closing act, Orah is ultimately forced to choose between accepting the government’s corruption and attempting to move on, or taking justice into her own hands and risking her own life. 

Photo credit: ESPN


Joie Jacoby on Directing ‘Candace Parker: Unapologetic’

Photo credit: ESPN

Director Joie Jacoby draws on years of portraying athletes to create her most personal film yet

By Chisom Peter Job

November 2023

Candace Parker: Unapologetic tells the story of one of the greatest WNBA players ever.  Director Joie Jacoby hails from the world of sports, having started at ESPN right out of college. She would go on to cover the Olympics, winning an Emmy for her work at London’s 2012 games. Following a documentary on Wendy Williams and Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries, her directorial chops sufficiently sharpened, Jacoby was ready to tackle a project that matched her passion.


“I’m really just interested in telling stories about people who are super fascinating. I’ve never done reality television or anything like that. I’ve always just been in the world of learning about people, what makes them tick, and how they become who they are. So, you know, the story of Candace fits right in there, too,” she tells STATEMENT.


Jacoby spent three years following the superstar, longer than any previous documentary she’s worked on. 


STATEMENT caught up with Jacoby to discuss directing the documentary film, working with Candace, and more.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


STATEMENT: What can you share about your experience directing this documentary?


Jacoby: Once Candace decided she was willing to do this film and was ready to tell her story, she was honest, open, and candid. She was willing to go there and talk about things she had never really spoken of on camera before — from her personal and professional life. So yeah, I mean, it was just really a process of spending a lot of time with Candace from 2021 through, you know, the beginning of this year when we finished filming. I think we did one small shoot this year. But everything was mostly done in 2021 and 2022.


How familiar were you with her story before this project?


I have been a fan of Candace and followed her career for many years. I worked on the ESPY Awards for ESPN for many years, which is like a big award show where all the biggest athletes in sports come together. And so the first time Candace came on my radar was when she was drafted into the WNBA and she was invited to the ESPYs. I learned so much because everybody was talking about her, and she was a really big deal, which is something you see in the film. 


Over the years, there have been some moments where she was a bigger deal, or the media made her a big deal in a way that we hadn’t seen women basketball players ever be highlighted. So from that first moment, I think it was 2006 or 2007, about when she was drafted, that’s when she really came on my radar. One of the things that was interesting to me was there was this huge emphasis, even at that time, on her looks and how beautiful she was. I mean, obviously, she’s a really beautiful woman. But I definitely hadn’t seen that sort of emphasis on black female athletes, particularly basketball players. We talked about how all this attention was on her and what that meant in the film.


So, what’s one thing you learned from Candace Parker during the course of making the film?


As I said, I worked with, you know, many of the top athletes; women, men, but you know, in particular, like a lot of these lady athletes that I’ve met over the years, and something really unique about Candace, despite, the accomplishments she’s had, is how grounded and down to earth she is.


How did you approach the process of telling Candace’s story and bringing it to life?


One of the big things was to tell her full story, and we needed a lot of archival material and footage. And Candace is incredible. She filmed a lot of stuff over the years, especially with her kid and traveling all over the world, playing in Russia, and playing in China. She had a wealth of material, just photos and videos. But one of the other things we really needed was stuff from her childhood, and if you saw the film, you saw there was a lot of old footage of her as a little girl, and that material all came from her mother.


But it wasn’t easy to obtain all of that footage because it was all very old and was not digitized, and her mother didn’t want to give it away. She didn’t want to just hand it off to us. Even though we were starting to get to know each other. So I had to go to Chicago and bring a VHS and TV tape recorder to her, and we watched everything at her house. And I was amazed by the stuff that I was seeing. She had news reports that nobody else had because they don’t archive these things, so I went through them, and then she allowed me to go and digitize them and bring them back to her. And I did that. So that was a really, really big part of the process and it took several days to just go through all of her material and copy it and get it back.


How do you incorporate feedback and criticism into your work, and how has this helped you over the course of your career?


Feedback is good, and a director has to have a motivating factor on what they want their film to be. Making films is not done with one director or one person. It’s not done with just me in there, and I could not have made this film without the incredible producers I worked with, all women who were pivotal in making it. There was feedback at every stage, including edits, and documentaries are super difficult to make with many people producing. It’s really a process from start to finish, with me as the director being the driving force, and nothing would get made if it was just me.


Have any of your projects ever taken you to the continent — Africa? If yes, tell me about it.


Yeah, and I’m hoping some more will bring me there soon! The first project that brought me to the continent, and my favorite thing to have worked on, was a story about Mandela and the Springboks for ESPN. We filmed in Johannesburg and Cape Town and with many of the archivists who had been working with Mandela for decades. We also filmed with locals, fans, and former players of Springboks, and that was an incredibly moving trip for me and brought a lot of emotions for me to be there.


It was an amazing opportunity to tell the story of Mandela to an American audience and how he used sport to bring the country together after so much pain. I also spent some time in Egypt during the Arab Spring — I can’t speak about where it’s ending up next — covering it and the liberation movement that, in many ways, has stopped and started many times in that region. I can’t wait to come back, and I would love to find another way to come back to film the continent!


What can we look forward to from you?


I’m doing a three-part documentary series for Hulu that tells the story of Black Twitter, which is really just how black folks are on the internet and have been driving culture on the internet and in real life for the last 20 years. So that’s upcoming and will be out early in 2024, and I am really excited about that. It was great diving into the pop cultural world when telling that story, and looking at politics, etc. It brings a lot of my interests together in one place.


Candace Parker: Unapologetic is currently streaming on ESPN.


Photo credit: Aham Ibeleme


Editi Effiong Is Here To Stay

Photo credit: Aham Ibeleme

How Effiong created the film that would go on to break records on Netflix

By Chisom Peter Job

October 2023

Despite being heavily inspired by his own tragic experiences, Editi Effiong couldn’t be more thrilled with his feature directorial debut, The Black Book. 


The director, who had his first Nollywood experience with Up North – the 2018 romance drama, which holds a special place in his heart – has reached an unprecedented level of success with The Black Book. The film is currently breaking records on Netflix with a budget exceeding $1 million, and a cast of veteran actors, including Richard Mofe-Damijo, Sam Dede, Ireti Doyle, and a host of others.  It had up to 5.6 million views in its first two days and has been on the top 10 list in over 50 countries since its release, making it the biggest African film on Netflix so far. 


“For the most part, I know we worked really hard, and we make films for audiences, so I’m happy that they love the work,” he tells STATEMENT. “I also love that feedback shows the audience felt what we wanted them to feel, and the Netflix algorithm is going to show that people paused the film at the 20th minute mark to catch their breath.”


While Up North, produced by Effiong’s digital agency, Anakle Films, was an ambitious project for him, and the “largest film ever shot in Nollywood, in terms of diversity,” The Black Book is the biggest Nigerian film ever done, demonstrating Effiong’s breakneck artistic growth. 


After Paul Edima’s (Richard Mofe-Damijo) son gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and is shot by the SAKS officers, we watch as Edima breaks down upon seeing the lifeless body of his only child. Set to the powerful, A Song by Dolu, the scene explores the depth of his grief and what losing a loved one feels like.


He explains, “I didn’t direct RMD’s scene as it’s my lived experience. I’ve lost a child. I had two boys, and lost my second boy in 2015, so I’m kind of an expert in grief and I’m very aware of those feelings and what it makes one do, and the questions it makes one ask,” he pauses. “Beyond the grief scenes, the depth of his grief was in the acceptance that he’s lost his child, and will do nothing about it.”


Edima doesn’t pursue the Nigerian government to achieve justice for his son’s death. He does, however, spend the entire film redeeming his son’s name, and making sure everyone involved in it paid a price.


Over Zoom, Effiong spoke more about The Black Book, a possible director’s cut, and what’s next.


STATEMENT: What was your feature directorial debut like?


Effiong: What was it like for me? The good thing about making a film in that position is that you have so much work to do, and you commit yourself to that. When you have a job to do, you expect the actors to divorce themselves from themselves and embody the character. You also have to take away your own self, and leave only the things that will help you take the character on this journey.


How difficult was it?


It’s the biggest film ever made in Nollywood, so what do you think? We had [a] Covid outbreak on set, and had to shut down for 10 days. And at that point you have to take care of the people who work with you, and that affected things down the road. Some members of the crew resigned because we shot for two months in Lagos and were going to Kaduna, and they didn’t want to because people were tired. There were security issues in Kaduna and we had to maintain a small private army. So, yeah.


How much of your lived experience was included in the film?


I live in this moment; in the physical and also live in my head. His son worked in an advertising agency, and I do too. Every Nigerian has also had an encounter with the police too. Beyond that, I do well with active imagination.


Alright, so were the explosions real?


All the explosions were real. We pulled them off on set.




I can tell you about the big explosion at the farm. The first day, we assembled a big set, pulled it together and were supposed to shoot it at 6:45 pm, because it was the exact time we needed to pull that scene. So we got everything together, and when the explosion went off, it was terrible. It was small, nothing. Thinking about it brings back bad memories, and I thought I was going to fail. The next day, we set it up again, and this time, it worked, and it worked really well.


That’s cool! I recently saw a post of yours, and wanted to know if we’d be getting a director’s cut anytime soon? 


It’s something I’ll have a convo about and see if it’s possible. I’m very happy with the picture that people see, and I do also think that people will appreciate a more relaxed cut of the film where conversations can be had for much longer, and people can see the characters in the way I had thought that they should be seen.


That’s great! What should we look out for from you?


I have a fourteen picture slate for the next five years, so that is a huge challenge. I do know that we’re on set in January, May, and September. Next year will be a busy year.


The Black Book is streaming on Netflix.

Director Ike Nnaebue / Photo credit: Jide Tom Akinleminu


No U-Turn: Exploring The Tough Realities of African Migration

Director Ike Nnaebue / Photo credit: Jide Tom Akinleminu

No U-Turn captures the perilous journey thousands of Africans take every year to Europe and why they deem the risk worth it

By Takunda Chimutashu

October 2023

No U-Turn, released earlier this year, follows a poor 20-year-old, who attempts to illegally migrate to Europe by road to seek a better life. In the film, director Ike Nnaebue retraces his steps as a young illegal immigrant, “I had finished my apprenticeship, and I was stranded with no startup capital to start my business. I was frustrated and hopeless.” Nnaebue continues, “So, when I heard that it was possible to travel to Europe by road without a visa and with very little money, I thought that was exactly what I needed,” he added.


Originally hoping to make money and return to Nigeria, Nnaebue quickly discovered it wasn’t as easy as he was told. 


“The desert is a deadly place, and crossing it is almost impossible without being kidnapped. People are being sold into slavery and forced to pay their own ransom. Then, when they eventually get through that and make it to North Africa, they are faced with a different kind of suffering as well. The Mediterranean Sea itself has become the biggest graveyard in the world,” he says.


Nevertheless, people continue to migrate to Europe for a better life. A report by UNICEF places the number of children who die at the Central Mediterranean Sea weekly at eleven, with an estimated 11,600 children having made the dangerous crossing so far in 2023.


Nnaebue’s experience, and that of many West African migrants trying to find safety and a better life in Europe through what is referred to as “the back door,” led the filmmaker to create No U-Turn. “The doc is me retracing the journey I took in my late teens, 27 years ago. It is an opportunity to go back and understand the decision I made. “I [always] wanted to go back [to Europe], and then I realized that 27 years later, people are still trying to go through that route despite the dangers.”


This journey itself led him to filmmaking. He describes how patient he had to be and how he waited for the right opportunity before starting this journey. 


“I also wanted the European audience to understand that migrants are humans with valid dreams and aspirations, just like any other person in other parts of the world. If anybody has ever thought of moving from New York to New Jersey or Houston to Atlanta for a better life, it’s really no different between that and a migrant who thinks they would find better opportunities in Europe.”


There have been articles documenting what it means for Africans who migrate through the dangerous routes from Nigeria to Benin to Morocco, but with No U-Turn, we don’t only hear the stories from these people, but we see how their lives are impacted by their decision to migrate to Europe. For audiences, the journey is equally as emotional, leaving us with the memory of their faces and their stories every time a news outlet recounts a migration tragedy.


It’s a documentary filled with African voices, which Nnaebue says was the goal. “The film was part of a cohort called Generation Africa, founded by the amazing people at Steps, South Africa — a collective of African filmmakers who were encouraged to tell different stories around migration. The goal was to help African voices be heard worldwide instead of African stories being told by non-Africans,” he told STATEMENT. “Steps and Generation Africa helped with the entire fundraising process and were instrumental in the process of making this film.”


While Nnaebue agrees that many people who leave, do so seeking greener pastures, they also decide to leave in part because of the suffering back home. This understanding has led him to be part of a project called “Returning Migrants Reintegration Project,” to provide a safe space, support, and whatever they need when they come back to the continent. “That’s why many people would rather languish in the desert than come home because they don’t have anything to return to. So we want them to know they have a home to return to. We want to help them recalibrate their lives.”


The filmmaker has come a long way since his journey in 1998. He recognizes that he was fortunate enough to have not attempted it more than once. “I recently met somebody who said he would rather die on the road than go back home, and that’s sad. It paints a picture of what Africa has become over the years, where things are getting worse for a majority of the populace instead of things getting better, which is why we’re doing this work. We want everybody to care enough and bring their attention to it.”


No U-Turn had its festival run in 2022 and the first few months of 2023 at the New African Film Festival, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, where it won a special jury mention award, and FESPACO where it won the best film on ECOWAS Integration.

Photo credit: Netflix


The Stars of Netflix’s ‘Can You See Us?’ Put Zambia on the Map

Photo credit: Netflix

The film explores what it’s like for people living with albinism in Zambia, inspired by true events.

By Fancy Goodman

October 2023

Netflix’s first Zambian film, Can You See Us?, premiered last month and has already stolen viewers’ hearts. Directed by Kenny Mumba and inspired by the life of Zambian singer John Chiti, the film follows Joseph, a boy grappling with albinism. 


The role of Joseph is played by Thabo Kaamba, a young actress with albinism. “This was an exciting and weird role,” Kaamba tells STATEMENT about playing a boy. “I had to cut my hair, wear male clothes, and learn to walk like a boy. I picked up behaviors from the boys I play with in my neighborhood, and also from my brother,” she adds. Can You See Us? showcases the lived experience of people living with albinism and the stigma they face in Zambia, as well as other [African] countries. 


In the film, people living with albinism aren’t considered human, and Joseph is frequently called “Mwabi,” a Nyangi word that translates to ghost, which Kaamba says is what people often think of her.


“Some people think I’m a ghost,” she says. “Even though I haven’t faced most of what Joseph went through, like being rejected by his father and bullied by his neighbors, I am called names whenever I walk in a new environment.”


STATEMENT sat down with Ruth Jule, the actor who plays Chama, Kondwani Elliott Zulu, who plays Martin, and Thabo Kaamba, as they spoke about their experiences working on the film, and becoming a fan favorite.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


STATEMENT: What was it like taking on your different roles?


Ruth Jule: It was a rollercoaster and was a bit difficult, mainly because I’m not a mother. However, the producer, Yasmine, ran me through what it was like being one and how protective mothers can be. That guidance made things easy for me.


Kondwani Elliott: It was amazing. The fact that I knew I was telling a very important story, coupled with being a father to someone while spreading the awareness of albinism, was a huge responsibility, but it was good.


I get that, so how did you both — Ruth and Kondwani — prepare for this role, seeing as you were parents to a child with albinism?


Ruth Jule: I had a lot of preparation with the producer, Yasmine. She is a mother, so she taught me how to be one and how protective they can be. That guidance made everything easy for me. 


Kondwani Elliott: I prepared with the help of the writers, director, and [the executive producer] Mr Thompson. When you sit down with them to understand what kind of father Martin is and why he has accepted to take in this child, you get the answers and are good to go. It was challenging because it required so much besides just being an actor or a father to someone. It required getting into the world of albinism and asking how you would react if you found yourself in the situation. We had an amazing cast, and they made it easy for me to do the job.


The film follows the story of real-life people. Did you get to interact with these people to better understand the characters you were playing?


Thabo: Yes, I did. We [John Chiti and I] interacted, and he told me some of the things he went through, which I never knew about.


Ruth  Jule: No, I never got a chance to do that.


Kondwani Elliott: I did not. However, John Chiti was on set one day, and I had a little chat with him. Then, he asked if I was the person playing his father. When I responded, he said, “I hope you do a good job.”


Okay, so what was it like playing these people? Was there any pressure to be great at portraying them?


Kondwani Elliott: It’s tough playing real people. It’s a lot of pressure because you don’t want to lie. I have never met the father of John Chiti, but I had to play him and get into his world. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. When I had conversations with the writers, they gave me hints about the kind of person the guy was, what he used to do, and what he liked.


Ruth  Jule: I didn’t really feel pressure, but I told myself I needed to do the best I could with the script and ensure that the viewers resonated with me as Joseph’s mum. My job was to play it as perfectly as I could. 


Thabo: Yes, there was. Playing another person is challenging because we are all different. Also, my character is a man, so that was something else.


So far, what do you think about the reception since the film premiered on Netflix?


Kondwani Elliott: It’s really good, and I personally didn’t expect that. I knew it was a good film that would travel well, but I didn’t expect people to get so invested as to make TikTok videos about it. It’s a big deal, especially because it is the first Zambian feature film on Netflix. The large reception it has had is truly amazing. 


Ruth Jule: I think it is something huge, and it is putting Zambia on the map. The world now knows that Zambia has a lot of undiluted talent. It gives [the world] a chance to sneak peek into Zambia’s movie industry and how we are good storytellers.


Thabo: It’s exciting and overwhelming. Also, I hope people will learn to treat others equally regardless of appearance. 


I hope the film creates more opportunities and conversations. Now, I’m curious to know what working with Thabo as the main character was like? 


Kondwani Elliott: She’s amazing, intelligent and out of this world. My biggest prayer now is that she gets more opportunities out of this. I remember her correcting me about certain lines because she knew the entire script. I came to the rehearsals and skipped some lines on set and was trying to be a genius, and she was like “Uh uh, daddy, go back”. She is an amazing actress.


Ruth Jule: It was easy working with her. She shared some of her challenges as a person with albinism, which made me tune into the character of a mother trying to protect her. She is excellent. 


What’s one thing being part of this production taught you about albinism?


Kondwani Elliott: I knew about albinism but I wasn’t so educated about it, but my mother did a good job because I was raised to see them as people with different skin tones. I remember the first time I read the script and was like, “Wait a minute! Somebody out there thinks cutting an albino’s arm off would make them money?” It was a shock, and it educated me so much about how our brothers and sisters with albinism are living, and I now know a lot about what that’s like. 


Ruth Jule: I knew they face challenges; I just didn’t know the severity and depth of those challenges. This movie opened my mind to the social and psychological difficulties they are faced with. I now know of people hunting them down for their arms and legs and understand how hard it is for them in society. We don’t see enough of people living with albinism in parliament and other positions of power. However, now, I know how they can be advocated for, going forward.


Can You See Us? is currently on Netflix.


Photo credit: Baloji


From Congo to Cannes: The Creative Odyssey of a Belgian Rapper-Turned-Filmmaker

Photo credit: Baloji

A tumultuous upbringing offered an avenue into music, but the artist’s newest venture into film is a path forged all on his own

By Sughnen Yongo

September 2023

Long before Belgium selected Omen as its Oscar entry for the Best International Feature Film category, Baloji Tshiani had begun the grueling journey of establishing himself as a filmmaker. 


His story began in Lubumbashi, the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Born to a Belgian father and a Congolese mother, he was sent to live with his father in Belgium and proceeded to lose all contact with his mother. Feeling disconnected in a new place, he fell into petty crime and ultimately ended up in a youth delinquency center. There, he pursued his love for rap and dance. At just 15, he, along with friends, founded the hip hop group, Starflam. Their first album, Starflam, came out in 1998, followed by Survivant. His lyrical prowess and magnetic stage presence quickly propelled him to fame in the European rap scene.


In 2008, he released his first solo album, Hotel Impala, which was an autobiographical album that earned him a gold certification and two “Octaves de la musique” awards, along with the Rapsat-Lelièvre Award and the Brassens Award for Lyricists.


Having achieved every marker of success within the music industry, Baloji remained determined to push the limits of his own artistry and began pursuing filmmaking.  In his own words, he had become bored with the predictable and mundane segues of other films he had watched, and was eager to break the mold and shift paradigms. However, veering away from a successful music career, proved nearly as difficult as making a name for himself in the first place. For one, naysayers told him to “stick to rapping,” and as if things couldn’t get any more dire, funding was a challenge.


“It was a very long process for multiple reasons. For one, the film industry is very reluctant to accept people coming from other businesses or other art forms, like music,” Baloji told STATEMENT. “It took me more than ten years to get one of my projects funded, so that was a real struggle, and this project just came after 12 rejections by film commissions.”


Omen is Baloji’s first feature film. Its widespread acclaim within the film industry is an entirely new experience for the dedicated artist.  After self-funding his projects for over four years and not seeing much return, he struck gold in the most rewarding way. 


“I was sick of waiting for funding and was even more tired of people telling me that they would never give it to me because I was not from the film industry and didn’t study cinema,” the Zombies creator said. “So I decided to produce my own films, and luckily enough for me, one of them got recognition, and it changed the perspective of how people see my work.”


In spite of the recognition, the Congolese-born European said that the years of rejection did a great deal to reveal his purpose for creating films.


“The rejection teaches you the “why” behind what is pushing you to want to make films, and then you realize that it’s not for the Oscar or the praise; you do it because it’s bigger than you,” he said.


Omen was a labor of love and a reflection of his roots – a commitment to authenticity that has paid off. The film will be showing at the 67th BFI London Film Festival next month, and earlier this year, got a nod at the Cannes Film Festival’s “Un Certain Regard” sidebar, but Baloji’s “why” for breathing life into the project was drawn from within.


“Without trying to be too intellectual on this topic, I’ll say that growing up, I was raised like I was a sorcerer who was connected to bad forces, and all my life, I tried to explain to people that you’re not the name that you didn’t choose, you are more than that.”


In Swahili, Baloji originally meant “man of science.” However, during the colonial era, Christian evangelists who settled in the area reframed the name to mean “man of the occult sciences” and later to mean “sorcerer.”


“When your name means sorcerer and is connected to the devil and bad forces, you just want to prove to everybody that you can also appreciate beauty,” the filmmaker said. “But that’s my name, that’s my fucking name.”


When you ask Baloji how he feels about his rising success and recognition in film, there is almost a bitter-sweet hesitance to accept the reality of the moment.


“It’s a mixed feeling because at first I also wanted to represent Congo, which is my first country, but Congo was not eligible. Sadly, we don’t have the structure in Congo to be presented for the Oscar yet,” he said. “When we presented to Belgium, I was not expecting to be the choice because there were a lot of experienced, professional directors and films to choose from.”


Determined to capitalize on Omen’s success, Baloji is already channeling his creative restlessness towards his second feature film, a project he hopes will be released within the next few years. Throughout his journey, even now as a recognized name, he says that one of the most important lessons he has learned is to embrace mistakes.


“I’ve learned that some mistakes are good to keep as mistakes because I think perfection is boring. I always say that in music, you can listen to a singer on stage whose voice is cracking and who doesn’t fully know the lyrics but still end up feeling like you believe in her more than the perfect opera singer who hits all the notes perfectly,” Baloji said. “So, what I’ve learned about mistakes along the way, within reason, is that they are a part of the process.”