Nollywood Biopics You Should See

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The biopic, a term created from the fusion of two words “biographical” and “picture”, is a film genre that is based on someone of historical, political or religious significance. Just as in the manner of a coming-of-age narrative, the biopic dramatizes the existence of a real person, usually a celebrity entertainer or political figure, spotlighting their private and public lives, and more importantly, highlighting the significance of their actions to society. The biopic is usually dedicated to the celebration of the individuals for their positive impacts and outstanding achievement. This genre forms a part of Nollywood productions.

While there are classic Nollywood biopics such as Tunde Kelani’s Efunsetan Aniwura (2005), an epic Yoruba story based on an awe-inspiring Iyalode of Ibadan and prominent slave trader in the 19th century, the focus here is on Nollywood productions that are released in the current decade and accessible on popular streaming platforms like Prime Video and Netflix. Here are five modern Nollywood biopics that you should check out for an optimal cinematic experience. 

 

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Produced and directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters, this biopic is about late Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the iconic women rights activist and mother to Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo, and activists Olikoye and Beko. The coming-of-age story explores the evolution and activism of the woman, from her days as the first female student of Abeokuta Grammar School to studying in London, her marriage to Israel Ransome-Kuti and her becoming an educator. While being a wife and mother, the film highlights her activism through the formation of the Abeokuta Women’s Union and protests against the  imposition of unhealthy taxes on market women in the community. While Joke Silva embodies the older version  of the woman who narrates the bulk of the story in a flashback, Kehinde Bankole plays the youthful character, dramatizing how Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti led the market women to confront the traditional and colonial authorities and compel the Alake to temporarily abdicate the throne. The 89 minute film, written by Tunde Babalola, was screened at the 12th edition of the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF 2023) where it won Best Overall Feature Film and Best Screenplay awards. It also earned recognition at the 2024 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA), with Tunde Babalola winning the category for Best Writing in a Movie. From May 17, 2024, the biopic had a five-week run in the Nigerian cinemas, grossing a total of 156.6 million, before premiering on Prime Video.

 

Ayinla

Ayinla captures the life and artistry of Abeokuta-based Apala maestro Ayinla Omowura at the peak of his career, including the fallout with his manager, Bayewu, with whom he got involved in a fight that led to the singer’s untimely death in 1980. The 2021 drama, produced by Jadesola Osiberu (Gangs of Lagos, Brotherhood) and directed by Tunde Kelani (Saworo Ide, Maami, Dazzling Mirage), is a blend of fact and fiction, hewn from notable events and myths surrounding the life of the singer in the 1970s and early 1980s. Shot in Abeokuta, Ogun state the production stars Lateef Adedimeji in the titular role and Debo Adedayo a.k.a. Mr Macaroni as Bayewu. Though the film has been accused of lacking in “biographical fidelity”, it makes sense of the controversies that defined the existence of the local musical icon and provides  a captivatingly logical documentation of his strengths and weaknesses. Ayinla was theatrically released on June 18, 2021 and began streaming on Netflix  on May 20, 2022.

 

Ìgè—The Unlikely Oil Merchant

Ìgè-The Unlikely Merchant follows the true life story of indefatigable oil and gas magnate Aare Bashir Fakorede. The coming-of-age story explores the humble beginnings, struggles, ambition and resilience of the successful businessman, serving as an inspiration to the current generation. Aare Bashir Fakorede is the Chairman of Bash Distinct Oil and Chief Executive Officer of 2B5M Nigeria Limited. The biopic is executively produced by his wife, Yeye Aare Tayo Fakorede, who, at a private screening in 2021, acknowledged the purpose of the film was to “encourage the youths and teach them that hard work and determination pays.” Produced by Toyin Abraham and directed by Biodun Stephen, the film stars Lateef Adedimeji in the lead role amongst other veterans such as Adebimpe Adedimeji, Bimbo Ademoye, Taiwo Hassan, Kolawole Ajeyemi, Jaiye Kuti, Yomi Fash-Lanso and Antar Laniyan. The biopic is currently available on Prime Video where it debuted in December 2023.

 

 Badamasi: Portrait of A General

This biopic is based on General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), a  Nigerian military dictator who ruled the country from 1985 to 1993. Written and directed by Obi Emenloye, the 2021 political biopic focuses on the former head of state’s attempt to help the country navigate “a viciously strained era”. Considered the first Nollywood political biopic, according to Culture Custodian report, the film stars Enyinna Nwigwe in the lead role of the general and accounts for IBB’s formative years in the Northern Nigerian village, to his days at the highest level of the Nigerian military. There are also references to other moments of IBB’s life, such as the Nigerian Civil War, military coups, and the June 12 Presidential elections saga. The cast of the political thriller also includes Okey Bakassi, Julius Agwu, Charles Inojie, Yakubu Mohammed and Sani Danja. Badamasi is currently available on Prime Video.

 

Amina

Born around 1533, Queen Amina was a legendary ruler and warrior of the Zazzau Emirate, now Zaria in Northern Nigeria, reigning in the 16th and 17th centuries.  The oft-mythicized figure, who is the subject of controversies and conflicting archival information, earns a posthumous representation in the Izu Ojukwu-directed film, Amina. Premiering on Netflix on November 4, 2021, the historical, quasi-biopic production, providing a sneak peek into the power play that characterized the kingdom prior to the advent of colonialism in Africa. It traces the development of Amina from the royal court where she acquired military skills to her ascension as an heir apparent. Though criticized for historical shortcomings and adoption of a non-Hausa in titular role, the film led with thirteen nominations at the 2022 Africa Magic Viewers Choice award where it eventually won the Best Overall Movie, Best Costume Designer, Best Art Director and Best Sound Editor awards. 

 

Anticipated Nollywood biopics for the year are:

House of Ga’a 

Set in the 18th Century Oyo Empire, the period film is about the ruthless legendary kingmaker and prime minister, Bashorun Ga’a— his diabolical reign and eventual downfall. Femi Branch embodies the lead role of Ga’a, while the cast includes Mike Afolarin, Muyiwa Ademola, Funke Akindele, Bimbo Manuel and  Lateef Adedimeji. The film is co-produced and directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters, the filmmaker responsible for the production of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. House of Ga’a is coming to Prime Video on July 26, 2024. 

 

The Man Died

The Man Died is a film adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s 1972 prison memoir of same title, promising a compelling depiction of the Nobel Prize winner and political activist’s experiences during the Nigerian Civil War. The film stars Wale Ojo as Soyinka alongside supporting actors like Sam Dede, Nobert Young, Chidi Mokeme, Christina  Oshunniyi and Simileoluwa Hassan. Soyinka’s memoir, which was written while he was in detention, documents his 22-month incarceration as a political prisoner. The film adaptation is set for a release this July to coincide with the literary icon’s 90th birthday. 

 

Awujale

The biopic is inspired by the life of the current Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, the longest reigning first-class monarch in Nigeria. Written by David Akande and directed by Tunde Olaoye, the film stars Debo Adedayo, Sola Sobowale, Antar Laniyan, Jide Kosoko, Fred Amata, Yemi Sodimu, Dayo Amusa and Aishat Lawal. The official release date of the film  is yet to be announced.

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