Gold Fails To Glitter in “She Must Be Obeyed” 

Posted on

In the Wendy Uwadiae Imasuen-produced five-part film series She Must Be Obeyed, Funke Akindele is Siyanbola, also called “She”, a music artist whose life is ruled by envy as she strives to outshine her colleagues within the music industry. In her quest for stardom, She maintains a Janus-faced personality: ruthless and self-conceited at home, empathetic in the eyes of the public. From ignoring her poor, ailing mother to owing staff salary, disappointing her cousin Bayo (Lateef Adedimeji), backstabbing her colleague Tito (Veeiye), and taking advantage of an underprivileged lady, Siyanbola proves to be unworthy in character. When her associates fully realize the nature of their boss, they rebel and attempt to shame her.

Imasuen’s project boasts a star-studded cast list, amongst which are Nancy Isime, Shaffy Bello, Ali Nuhu, Mike Ezuruonye, Chiwetalu Agu, Lizzy Jay, Rachel Okonkwo, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Big Brother Naija star Veeiye, TV presenter and media personality Denrele Edun and Afrobeats singer Waje. This casting strategy is a means to two ends: commercial appeal and verisimilitude. The film sets the right tone, capturing the glamor and glitz associated with celebrity life when it opens with a grand Awards ceremony anchored by Denrele Edun, during which rival character-singers, She and Tito take on the stage at separate times, rendering concert-like performances. Even though Funke Akindele who embodies the character of She isn’t a real-life singer, her stage presence is commendable.

Imasuen’s opportune series is set against the backdrop of unpalatable incidents in Nigerian showbiz: leaked sex tapes of actresses and the controversial death of Afrobeats singer Mohbad. The filmmaker simulates this, for instance, in the sex tape saga that causes a momentary blight on Tito’s music career. In the film, Victoria’s high expectations about She, including the possibility of her getting a shot in the music industry through the celebrity, gets dashed after discovering that She’s outward benevolence is only a facade. Then, there’s the slavish contract that Adaeze enters into with She, in order to secure 10 million naira upfront for her father’s surgery—a remote hint at how some record labels are believed to take advantage of desperate, up-and-coming artists. The contract stipulates that Adaeze will record songs exclusively for She, not performing anywhere else, for a period of twenty years. Through these satiric scenarios, the filmmaker reveals that celebrities, like their non-celebrity counterparts, are just as vulnerable, imperfect, and capable of wrongdoings.

The film also highlights how consequential parenting is to the psychological development and welfare of children. In a flashback, the root of Siyanbola’s inhumane behavior as an adult is traced to her formative years when her mother often belittled her in the presence of her younger sister for being alopecic, which shredded her self-esteem. An evidence of Siyanbola’s lack of self-worth is her having to sleep around with wealthy men so as to fund her luxury lifestyle.

Directed by Funke Akindele and her estranged husband JJC Skills, with directorial assistance from Tobi Makinde who recently co-directed Battle On Buka Street, the dramedy manipulates one maxim: all that glitter isn’t gold. But then, this sentiment is slightly bloated in the storyline, leading us to entertain some concerns. It is difficult to believe that She has successfully risen to that level without ever having to sing acapella throughout her career. Why, also, would She trust Adaeze enough to keep the contract and secret between them? Besides, there is some exaggeration at play when the film reveals how She treats her PR team in the most degrading and unprofessional manner. It is unbelievable that an artist would employ a team of experts to work with them only for the artist to be hostile and insensitive to the team. If the artist wouldn’t give the team freedom to make decisions in the artist’s best interest, then there was no need for the team in the first place.

Another problem with the character construct of She is her absolute lack of discretion, evident in her toxic treatment of her employees. This is evident in the poor, supercilious relationship with her employees, especially her cooks, personal assistant and even her manager Sisqo. As a public figure, being in good accord with your staff helps to quell any negative thoughts they might have towards you. As the film denies She this basic wisdom, we have every reason to suspect that a plot from her inner circle against her is around the corner.

The film portrays social tensions and class differences. For instance, She’s affluence and overambitious lifestyle contrasts sharply with Adaeze’s impoverished status and resignation to fate. Even within the household of the celebrity, the social gap between She and her domestic workers is conspicuous as the celebrity often talks down on them and places herself on a pedestal.

Funke Akindele is one of the executive producers of She Must Be Obeyed, and she has previously worked together with Wendy Uwadiae Imasuen on Omo Ghetto: The Saga (2020). Her commitment to this current film is coming after the release of her 2022 box office success Battle On Buka Street which is also a dramedy. In her own films, Akindele usually takes on the lead role while making use of humor and melodramatic actions, depicting themes that are representative of the diverse human nature. These elements are evident in her current directorial project, as the film leads to a point where the antagonist Victoria engages the flawed protagonist She in a fight-—a moment in which She’s celebrity status is reduced to one of “yeye-brity”.

The use of songs in the film contributes to its artistic outlook as a musical and jumpy series. The soundtrack I’m hot, which She performs at the beginning of the story, is written by Abdulrasheed Bello and recorded by Brenda Adigwe. Brenda Adigwe is also responsible for the vocals of Carry Go and Somebody Loves You performed by She and Adaeze respectively, as Vee Iye and Waje get the credits for the vocals of other songs in the film. The adoption of vocals by Vee Iye and Waje, both of whom are real-life singers, gives the film a slight golden edge as it turns out both of them reprise their real-life personalities in the filmic roles they play.

Despite scoring points in casting and a few other artistic choices, the real glitter is hampered by the film’s lack of depth in narration and character development. She Must Be Obeyed does not in any way attempt to take us by surprise. This makes the storyline and characters predictable: She remains a terrible person, Tito and X-cite maintain a cordial relationship throughout, nothing serious threatens the synergy of Bayo and Victoria, and the film ends with Tito gaining more influence and She on the verge of disgrace for her inhumaneness. It would have been more intriguing to have X-cite betray Tito or have a story in which the three female singers are at loggerheads with one another. Also, for her role as Siyanbola’s mother, Shaffy Bello’s appearance in the film is short-lived and not evocative enough.

With a sequel promised at the end, there is a strong possibility that the titular character gets the chance to retain or revamp her unethically scripted glory. One would also expect a partnership between Victoria and Adaeze leading to a formidable force in the music industry. Perhaps we might as well witness a shift in focus from Tito to Adaeze, with Adaeze now posing more threat to the protagonist’s music career. Should the filmmaker extend the series to a few more seasons, which looks unlikely, the protagonist’s downfall might not be guaranteed until the very last episode of the final season—and that possibility will be dictated by her refusing to nip her bad behavior in the bud.