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.


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.”

Film & TV

Ellie Foumbi Wants Africans To Tell Stories On Their Terms

Our Father, the Devil explores the effects of violence on children in the Cameroonian director’s new psychological thriller

By Jerry Chiemeke

September 2023

Our Father, the Devil asks – is repentance possible? Ellie Foumbi reunites a woman scarred by unspeakable tragedy with the very man responsible for it. Ultimately, Foumbi grapples with the notion (choice) of devout forgiveness, in contrast to being given the perfect opportunity for revenge through what could be argued is divine intervention itself. 


With an MFA in Directing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, Foumbi took her first directorial swings with shorts like Zenith (2017) and No Traveler Returns (2019), which caught the attention of the creators of the BET anthology series Tales, and they invited her to direct an episode. 


“The director had seen a short of mine that he loved, but I hadn’t directed a feature, and it’s difficult to get an episode of television without a feature. I was in LA about to start doing a lab when they asked me to meet with the network. I didn’t realize that I was being considered, and I was shocked when they said they would hire me to do the episode. There was a lot of fear going into that episode because it was so sudden,” she tells STATEMENT.


Foumbi’s time at BET was transformative for developing her confidence. She immediately began working on her directorial debut, Our Father, the Devil, which has drawn out all the plaudits. 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 by 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. 


STATEMENT spoke to Foumbi about her filmmaking journey, the influence of Nollywood on African cinema, and future prospects for Black filmmakers.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


STATEMENT: You strongly identify as Cameroonian. How would you describe filmmaking back home? What do you think can be improved, and how can Africa export storytelling in a more expansive way?


Foumbi: We don’t have the resources that we need. I think the infrastructure just isn’t available; people are finding ways to put out work in the manner they know best, but there is a considerable gap as far as funding is concerned. From a national perspective, we still have ways to go, and I would love to be part of that wave of filmmakers that helps to put the spotlight back on filmmaking. 


Nollywood has also been a model for many African filmmakers. When you have an industry on the continent that has grown and has had the impact that Nollywood has had, in your mind, it becomes less of a pipedream and more of a possibility. We need to keep creating more structures like that, which let African filmmakers know that no matter where you are, there is a model of success that you can follow.


What inspired the screenplay of Our Father The Devil?


My dad did a lot of work in Africa, particularly in Rwanda. When he was there, one of his colleagues got me to make contact with a survivor of the (1994) Genocide. As he shared his lived experiences, those were some of the things I became interested in. I wanted to explore the perspective of child soldiers who get caught up in conflicts of this nature. When I started researching, I found that all the movies were about the conflict and very little about the aftermath. I also wanted to explore this concept of redemption because, in my research on child soldiers, one of the biggest hurdles in their healing process is their shame. A lot of these kids don’t know what they are doing. They are roped into violence, watch their families being murdered, and must do the same to stay alive. It’s a vicious cycle.


The lead actors in this film – Babetida Sadjo and Souleymane Sy Savane – have received praise for their performances, and deservedly so. Sadjo, in particular, brought an edgy dimension to the character of Marie. What influenced your casting choices?


I just follow my gut. In 2015, Souleymane (Sy Savane) and I were in a film together. I felt he was excellent, and I was surprised he wasn’t doing more. Meeting him actually inspired me to write this role for him. A year earlier, a friend of mine had been in a film with Babetida (Sadjo) called ‘Wasteland.’ He had sent me the trailer for the film, and her face completely transfixed me. However, I didn’t connect with her until 2019, and I hoped she would accept the script because if she had turned it down, I had no idea who else would have taken on that role. Thankfully, she loved the story and said she knew what to do with the character.


Would you say that for African filmmakers, things that play out in the home continent influence the kinds of stories we tell?


It’s part of our subconscious framework, how we view the world. Still, part of the reason I made ‘Our Father, the Devil’ is because I felt that African filmmakers are placed in some sort of box, and I think that what this film does is step out of that: we’re doing a different facet of a character. The stories about illegal migration are valid, but they are tired. We have other stories to tell. I think that African filmmakers have to push back against those tropes. When it comes to issuing grants in Europe, the stories that reinforce those stereotypes tend to be rewarded. They (European financiers) need to ask themselves why they do not want to see other kinds of stories.


You are the 2nd Black female director to feature at Venice. What would you say about the opportunities for Black women filmmakers? Are there still glass ceilings to be broken? Are there opportunities for collaboration?   


A whole wave of women are killing it out there: Alice Diop, Chinonye Chukwu, Mariama Diallo, Ekwa Msangi and Nana (Mensah), among others. However, there’s still much to be done in terms of access. For every ten white filmmakers who enter the door, you only find one Black person in the room. Beyond that, I have had several discussions with Black women filmmakers about their respective journeys, and there is still a certain expectation about the kinds of stories that Black filmmakers should tell.  I am curious about the opportunities made available for Black women filmmakers and what they are being ‘allowed’ or encouraged to make. We should have free rein to tell whatever type of story we want, especially since it will still be told through the lens of our Blackness.


Our Father, the Devil is currently screening at select theaters across the U.S.

Photo credit: Adamson

Film & TV

Nollywood’s Stunts Sub-Industry is on the Rise

Photo credit: Adamson

Higher Nollywood budgets have accelerated the growth of a new profession: The Stunt Man

By Wale Oloworekende

September 2023

Over the last 15 years, the scope and trajectory of the film industry in Nigeria has undergone a revolution. Previously synonymous with the direct-to-video format, Nollywood has elevated its production quality to that of global cinematic releases and digital streaming content. As a result, the need for both high octane adventure and realism has never been greater. 


With a new wave of noir productions like King of Boys, Shanty Town, and Brotherhood looking to capture the grit and grimness of Nigerian life, the need for realistic depictions of these experiences has warranted the rise in popularity of stunts coordinators who are helping to bring Nollywood’s elaborate and ambitious action sequences to life against all odds.  “Originally, I was just an actor and stunt was something I only did for theatre and fun,” veteran Nollywood stunt coordinator, David ‘Mr Nollywood’ Patrick tells STATEMENT about his route into the profession. “As I grew up, I heard people say that stunt direction and coordination could also be applied in movies and that was intriguing to me so I started working on short movies as well as home videos before moving to cinema productions and finally movies made for streaming platforms.”


As one of the earliest recognisable faces in the stunt section of Nollywood, Patrick has been choreographing film sequences and coordinating stunts in Nollywood for the better part of two decades and helping to codify what the roles of stunt coordinators should be within an industry constantly in flux. “I spent a lot of time clarifying what we do and building publicity for the role over the years,” says the director who has worked on stunts for productions like Mamba’s Diamond, Merry Men 2, and Shanty Town. “I had to let people know that it shouldn’t be the work of the director to teach people martial arts or fighting on set. The director should focus on the conceptual aspect of the project while the stunts coordinator would focus on the physical aspects that need choreography. All that matters is that they work within the vision of the movie’s director.”


The arrival of streaming platforms like Netflix, Prime Video, and Showmax in Nigeria has opened up a new stream of capital to filmmakers allowing them to be more experimental with their work. “Nigerian producers are becoming braver in how they make movies and that’s what’s bringing stunts to the limelight in Nollywood,” a rising stuntman and fight choreographer, Michelangelo Ilesanmi, says. It’s an opinion that film journalist and critic, Daniel Okechuwku, agrees with: “We care more about stunts looking real these days so the way they are staged and cut in the editor’s room makes them nicer on the eyes. The reasons for this range from more exposure and film knowledge to having more capital to afford better stuntmen and train the actors on their stunts.”


In the last two years, Nollywood has witnessed a return to the Yoruba epic dramas that were a stock in trade at the turn of the 2000s. Films like King of Thieves (Agẹṣinkólé), Aníkúlápó, and Jagun Jagun are tremendously elaborate productions that rely on stunts and fight sequences to translate the bravado of their leading acts. 


It can often be a challenge to ascertain what style of stunts works for movies like this that are situated around the 16th and 18th centuries. Rising stunts coordinator, Adamson Kolade, says that it all comes down to rigorous research and finding a style that works for the movie. “I had to go over the script for Jagun Jagun over and over because I wanted to understand the era,” he explains. “When I finished studying it, I decided to centre our fight sequences on a merger of old Indian and Nigerian methods. So, we created fictional fight sequences for a fictional movie.”


For all the excitement around the rise of stunts in Nollywood, it remains a profession fraught with difficulties and dangers ranging from training accidents to on-set incidents. According to Patrick, the biggest issue is the lack of healthcare insurance for stunt practitioners. “If someone dies on duty, they have literally died on their own so it’s a risk every time we go to work,” he says. “We don’t have a legally binding agreement with any production even for burials in the case of fatality. If I pull up official documents to be signed by productions, they’ll often cancel the contracts and scrap the fight scenes. Effectively, we’re sacrificing our lives and safety.”


Per Patrick, the rise of a new generation of stunt coordinators and directors eager to put their skills to the test could have an adverse effect on the push for better working conditions. “A lot of the new stunt practitioners are martial arts coaches or dancers who decided to transition to this field so they don’t often know the full scope of things,” he says. “I think the industry should have a resolve to improve the welfare of stunt practitioners. It should be reflected in the budgets assigned for the stunts department for movies as well. It should be up to producers and executive producers to ensure that stunt practitioners are protected against health emergencies and incidents.”

Photo credit: Best Friend Forever

Film & TV

African Cinema on the Festival Circuit: A Renaissance Story

Photo credit: Best Friend Forever

These top tier festivals have allowed for filmmakers to build a following on a global scale

By Sughnen Yongo

August 2023

In recent years, African films have gained well deserved recognition at the most prestigious international film festivals. There was a time when festivals like Sundance, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and Tribeca Film Festival predominantly showcased Western productions, but the tides have changed. These festivals are now embracing a rich tapestry of narratives and talents from the African continent, signifying a remarkable turning point in the world of cinema, as African filmmakers receive their long-overdue spotlight on the global stage.


At the heart of this burgeoning success is a new generation of African filmmakers who have unleashed their creativity, ingenuity, and cultural perspectives to captivate audiences worldwide. From Kenya to Nigeria, Ghana to South Africa, and beyond, these filmmakers have woven tales that are both unique and universally resonant. Their films celebrate diverse identities, explore poignant social issues, and offer glimpses into African traditions, all while challenging outdated stereotypes and tropes.


Sundance, once a haven for independent American cinema, has now become a melting pot of global talent with African films capturing the attention of audiences and industry professionals alike. This year, several African films received critical acclaim at the Utah-based festival including CJ Obasi’s Mami Wata and Sofia Alaoui’s Animalia, two films that won jury prizes at the festival.


African films are increasingly finding their place in this cinematic haven, capturing the attention of audiences and industry professionals alike. One such personal essay film, Milisuthando by South African director Milisuthando Bongela, left a profound impact at Sundance with its evocative storytelling of the apartheid regime in South Africa and negotiating the complex world against the backdrop of post-apartheid South Africa


For Love Nafi, a DMV-based native, African entertainment as a whole, is getting its just recognition, although there are still some challenges.


“Similar to Africa’s takeover of music, African cinema has definitely permeated the global stage and I feel that there’s a budding amount of exceptional films gaining traction and being recognized at major film festivals,” Love Nafi said. “However, equity and representation within these mediums can sometimes still remain an issue. While African films are being included, all of our stories aren’t necessarily being amplified in comparison to our counterparts. As a whole, I think it’s important for Africa to continue to find ways to create its own stage.”


The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has also embraced the richness of African cinema. In the festival’s Africa Hub, an exclusive platform dedicated to African films, vibrant voices from the continent resonate across the world, and festival goers this year will have the opportunity of seeing many of such films by talented African filmmakers, including I Do Not Come to You By Chance, executive produced by Nigerian veteran actress and producer, Genevive Nnaji.


Tribeca, nestled in the vibrant heart of New York City, has also embraced the renaissance of African cinema. The festival has demonstrated its commitment to showcasing the diversity of African stories, be they tales of urban life, ancient folklore, or historical events. Nigerian Prince by Nigerian director Faraday Okoro stunned Tribeca audiences with its portrayal of a troubled American teenager Eze, who is sent away to his mother’s native Nigeria against his will, and gets entangled in a web of criminal activity. Okoro’s masterful direction, combined with a compelling screenplay, unraveled the temptations and showcased his grip on artistic direction.


The rise of African cinema has not occurred in isolation but as a result of concerted efforts from both filmmakers and festival organizers.


Uwe Boll, a German filmmaker, who has become renowned for his adaptations of video game franchises says that Africa is gaining a grip. “This year, at Cannes it was all about Africa, one of the most discussed and hyped continents. More than five films ran at the festival and in the market even more — which is fantastic,” he said.


Four Daughters, crafted by the visionary Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania — renowned for The Man Who Sold His Skin, along with Banel & Adama, the remarkable inaugural work by Senegalese-French filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy, formed an intriguing cinematic pair at the festival this year.


Boll also added that countries in the Middle East, such as Morocco and Tunisia, have been long-time active locations for various big Hollywood productions. “Movies like Mission Impossible or Gladiator have utilized several Middle Eastern locations to shoot, and recently, significant investment funds have been entering the scene, contributing millions of dollars to co-produce films.”


Another catalyst for the recognition of African films has been the growing demand for diverse narratives in the global film industry. Audiences hungry for fresh perspectives and untold stories have welcomed African films with open arms, eager to be transported to new worlds and immersed in rich cultural experiences. This demand has prompted film distributors and streaming platforms to acquire more African films, extending their reach to viewers across the globe. In 2022, Netflix and UNESCO collaborated on an African Folktales competition, which was a chance of a lifetime for rising Sub-Saharan African filmmakers and storytellers to breathe new life into ancient tales, flaunting their brilliance to the world in their very own languages by seizing the moment, rewriting the narrative, and embracing the global stage.


There’s also the co-productions between African filmmakers and global partners helping to bridge the gap and unravel African cinema to wider audiences. Elesin Oba, The King’s Horseman, a historical drama was co-produced by Ebonylife Films and Netflix. In 2022, it was selected for screening at TIFF and now streams globally on Netflix.


In spite of the resurgence of African films and the support African governments and institutions provide to local film industries — a UNESCO study shows that merely 19 out of 54 African countries provide financial support to filmmakers — there is still a long way to go in terms of funding and support, especially when many filmmakers across the continent encounter obstacles such as restrictions while filming.


Chrissy Collins, the Chief Communication Officer for Pan African Chamber of Commerce also agrees that there is still a long way to go.


“It’s a powerful step towards breaking stereotypes and fostering a deeper understanding of African cultures. However, we still have a long way to go and we must continue to support and uplift African filmmakers to ensure this progress is sustained and amplified,” Collins said. “This way, we can break the stero-typical films that Hollywood creates based on an americanized view of Africa.”


Beyond the immediate success at international festivals, the rise of African cinema has ignited a collective sense of pride and hope within the African film community. As a result of this newfound recognition, a new generation of filmmakers have been empowered to tell their stories. This cultural renaissance has sparked a virtuous cycle, nurturing a vibrant ecosystem that fosters creativity, innovation, and artistic expression across the continent.


According to Nataleah Hunter-Young, an International Programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), African cinema has long been celebrated under the franchise.


“TIFF has had a long and unique history of spotlighting African cinema, so for us, the African presence isn’t new. We celebrated 25 years of that presence in 2020 with ‘Planet Africa 25’ screenings, panels and parties, much of which is documented online, but as the African industries on the continent grow, so too does their presence at the Festival, and that growth is reflected in the strength and creative breadth of the productions in each year’s Official Selection,” she said.


The entertainment landscape is evolving, and with that comes the increased demand for African stories. “What has changed, from a global perspective, might be the audience demand for African content and as a result, African creators are receiving more and more attention from European and North American industry stakeholders, particularly from streamers which is still the easiest way for North American audiences to watch African productions,” Hunter-Young added.


In spite of the expansion of the streaming era, Hunter-Young believes that streamers alone can’t dictate industry growth, so festivals will continue to play a major role in audience development and in pushing industry expectations. 


The recognition of African films at these international festivals is not merely a matter of tokenism; it reflects a growing awareness of the exceptional talent emanating from the continent. Gone are the days when African cinema was limited to niche audiences or considered exotic novelties. Today, these films transcend cultural boundaries, resonating with viewers from all walks of life, igniting empathy, and fostering cross-cultural curiosity.

Credit: Gazmadu Studios

Film & TV

Toyosi Etim-Effiong on Taking Nollywood to New Orleans

Credit: Gazmadu Studios

Etim-Effong has partnered with the Essence Film Festival to bring visibility to Nollywood productions

By Chisom Peter Job

August 2023

Nollywood made its Essence Film Festival debut last month with “Nigeria Day.” Made possible by Toyosi Etim-Effiong, founder and CEO of That Good Media, the partnership is devoted to the movers and shakers of the Nigerian film industry.


“We screened a Nigerian film last year at the festival, but I saw a huge gap there,” Toyosi Etim-Effiong tells STATEMENT. “So we went back and said, ‘if you’re organizing a Black film festival, are you sure it’s Black or simply African American? Because if it’s Black, then Nollywood has to be included; after all, we’re Black too, the most populous nation of our race, and have the second largest film industry in terms of output, so that must count for something… And they were open to it this year. It grew from screening a film to having our own day.”


The Essence Film Festival, which ran from June 29 to July 3, showcased films from South Africa, Ghana, and other African countries.


Toyosi Etim-Effiong spoke to STATEMENT about partnering with Essence, and showcasing Nollywood in New Orleans.


How long have you been working on the partnership with Essence?


So we facilitated the screening of a Nollywood film last year, the first ever at the film festival, and there was a panel with Nollywood players, and that has now progressed into an actual Nigeria day where we have a full day for content and conversations around Nigerian film and TV. So yes, it’s year one.


You’ve worked in media for a while, taking up different roles in different organizations. What has that been like for you?


It’s been an interesting and aggressive journey, and the house is being built brick upon brick. I enjoyed working at Folio, and some of the other roles that I’ve taken. Some have been projects, not full time jobs, and have led to this point. I now run my company ‘That Good Media’ and we’re in partnership with Essence for the first ever Nigeria Day, which has been interesting. Not hitch free, but an interesting and progressive journey.


What do you mean when you say ‘Not hitch free’?


I mean, I’ve had challenges. I’ve had to deal with things that I’d rather not have dealt with. There have been money shortages on projects, issues with people that are not aligned with the vision, and things like that that have been problematic, but also contributed to my  growth as an individual and also my progress in the journey.


Now that the vision of having a ‘Nigeria Day’ is happening, what are some of your goals for it?


My goal for the day really is to secure strategic collaborations and partnerships. I hope that people come from all over The United States, Africa, and they connect with our talents — filmmakers, directors, producers — and decide they want to partner. You know, I’m working on setting up for key attendees like production studios to have meetings with local studios as well. 


Besides the Essence Film Festival Activation [ the ‘Nigeria Day’] we’re also meeting with Film New Orleans. Now, Film New Orleans is the film board of New Orleans, linked or attached to the mayor of New Orleans’ office. And so they’re going to be hosting us for a cocktail reception and a forum, which is to get us acquainted with how things work in New Orleans for those who want to end up going to film there because they realize a lot of Nigerians tend to film in Atlanta, maybe Houston or New York, but nobody’s really giving much thought to New Orleans. But that’s about to change because New Orleans is such a rich and culturally vibrant place, and having the film board decide to host us along with other local production companies and local producers so that there can be an interaction and exchange of ideas is huge. It’s what I’m hoping will lead to big projects and more recognition for Nollywood.


From the Essence Film Festival to meeting the New Orleans Film Board, what do you think this looks like for the future of Nollywood?


It’s started already. If Afrobeats can do it, then Nollywood can too because they are from the same father and mother, and we refuse for Nollywood to be the child that doesn’t make it. We’ve seen how these music collaborations have helped the Afrobeats space and we’re hoping the same would apply to the film industry by the time Tyler Perry decides to partner with EbonyLife for example or Oprah Winfrey Network decides to partner with the Filmone or Inkblot or any of our major guys doing major things here. It will definitely have ripple effects that will positively affect the Nigerian film industry.


Okay. So away from the Film Festival, what’s something you and your team are currently working on?


We [That Good Media] run a talent management division, so we are constantly looking for the best opportunities for our talent, and positioning them well, not just for local gigs and local collaborations with brands, but with international brands as well. So the Talent management Division is one that is growing and we’re working a lot on. What else are we working on? We’re also working on securing more collaborations and partnerships like the one we have with Essence. It would be great to do this with other major platforms. It will also be great to do this across the United States and even the rest of the world. So it’s all about partnership. It’s all about cultural exchange to improve what is currently the norm.


You worked in bringing people from Hollywood to the 2022 AMVCA. What other plans like this do you have in the future?


You know, the thing I say is ‘my network becomes your network.’ So the more I build my network, the more I build a network for Nollywood, and there are other people doing the same thing as well. So again, I’m not coming here as a savior or to rescue a broken system. It’s just my contribution to an industry that has been in existence for a long time, is doing relatively well, and can do much better. I’ve seen gaps that I’m trying to fill. And so in terms of, um, getting people on board to the AMVCA’S, AMAA’s, or anything really that requires the presence of Hollywood, I am ready and available to provide my services.


Right. What has the reception been like from people in the industry?


Oh, that’s a loaded question. For someone who is doing this for the very first time on this scale, of course, there’s been some caution. People are like, “hmm, what is she up to? What is she doing?” So there’s that. But there are also people that are like, “this is great. We know of Essence, and love that you have been able to secure a partnership with a brand like them, which is fantastic and we want to support you. And whichever way it goes, it’s good for the industry.” So I’m happy with the reception that we’ve gotten so far, especially from the press, and I want to say thank you again for actually talking to me about this partnership.

Photo credit: Mattel, Inc.

Film & TV

How Barbie Helped Queer African Kids Feel Safe

Photo credit: Mattel, Inc.

Barbie: The Unofficial Queer Mascot

By Chisom Peter Job

August 2023

“Why be put in a box when you can be anything?” 21-year-old Ines asks me, referring to Barbie, America’s favorite doll, which somehow became a safety net for many African kids.


Growing up in Littoral, Benin as the only girl among two siblings in the noughties, Ines spent her childhood playing with a black ballerina Barbie. “I used to make her hair and carry her everywhere because why not? She was my girl and still is, and I am not sure you understand how excited I have been! I was there on opening night, and got a ballerina dress to go with it. It was so good!”


The iconic 64-year-old doll, which hit shelves in 1959 and has made appearances on TV, video games, books, and more, has finally come to life. Directed by Greta Gerwig, with Margot Robbie playing the doll herself and Ryan Gosling as Ken, the live-action Barbie film is simple: “she’s everything. He’s just Ken.”


Barbie had the biggest opening weekend for a female director, and a film in 2023, with a worldwide debut of $337m, showing how much love people around the world have for the doll. And for people on the African continent, this love is special.


For everyone Ines’ age, and even older, Barbie isn’t just a doll. Her fluidity in both career identity and aesthetic modeled the capacity for change, touching the lives of queer and trans people on the continent.


Fola Francis, a Nigerian trans woman, didn’t have Barbie dolls of hers while growing up but would usually play with that of her cousins. “I lived with extended family for some time and didn’t have a doll of mine. So when I couldn’t play with that of my cousins, I’d create paper dolls,” she laughs. “These [paper dolls] would become my version of Barbie, and I’d take care of them because they were my friends too,.” she adds, reminiscing on the adventures she had with them and the secrets they shared.  


After watching a few animations, Francis decided she wanted to be like her. “I wanted to be a doll, and now, I am one.” At the time, Francis didn’t know how that would work, but now, she is living it and is a doll, a queer lingo used to refer to trans women.


“My dad bought a Superman action figure for me after I had requested a Barbie doll. You can imagine what it was like to hear him rant about my toy choice as a child.” As an only child, Mikael’s toys were his best friends, and after seeing a Barbie animation at a friend’s, he wanted to own one.


“I know I was sad for a while until I visited an aunt one day and saw an unopened box of Doctor Barbie! I was so excited when she gave it to me and told me not to worry about my dad. And even though he continually gave remarks about me owning a doll, [Barbie] instantly became my best friend and was the first person I ever came out to as gay.”


22 out of 55 African countries recognise LGBTQ+ people, with queer and trans people facing legal challenges in the others. From Nigeria to Togo, same-sex sexual activity is penalized and carries up to 3 years in prison in some countries, and 14 years in others like Nigeria, with death by stoning in Sharia states. Many LGBTQ+ people remain in the closet for fear of their safety, and for many, finding something or someone that makes them feel safe is important.


For those who grew up on the continent, just like Mikael, doing anything remotely feminine was out of the question. However, with Barbie, there was a break from the gender binary as they could freely express themselves by braiding her hair, painting her nails, and reveling in her femininity. Whatever self-expression they desired could be at least temporarily fulfilled through their doll alter ego.


“There’s this joke about how queer men find their first female celebrity and stick by them for life, well, my first was Barbie,” Gerald, 24, says. “I could paint her nails, dress her up, put on fake lip gloss, and it was the best thing ever because no one would do that for me. She was a reflection of who I wanted to be.”


Justin, 26, grew up femme in Nigeria. “I grew up in a very religious household, and while my parents began to acknowledge my queerness quite early, they still prayed for me to change. I wanted to change. But when I saw this plastic doll taking a life of her own, doing anything, I knew I could live freely in my truth. It might sound crazy, but as a young queer kid, it wasn’t,” he adds. As the Barbie frenzy has taken over, Justin is getting everything ready for when he sees it. “I’m not just going to watch Barbie; I am going to be covered in anything pink I can find.”


As Ines adds: “There’s a reason I studied accounting in college and now pursuing other things because I saw Barbie doing it all. I know she’s a girl boss, but she’s my favorite kind.”


With its “unlimited” marketing budget, which includes a Malibu Barbie dreamhouse  designed by Nigerian-American designer, Victoria Adesanmi (available on AirBnB) and record breaking opening weekend gross, Barbie is poised to top the very best of 2023 film list. 


“It’s my favorite toy-to-film adaptation ever, and I wish Barbieland was real,” Mikael says. “It’s like this utopia where nothing wrong happens, and I fell in love with how that world was portrayed. What’s a better place to live as a queer man?”


Despite there being no press tour on the continent, star studded premieres took place in South Africa and Nigeria. And for the rest of us, Barbie-themed brunches and parties have become a summer must. [Warner Bros. Pictures did not immediately comment on the lack of press tours on the continent.]