Review: “Afamefuna” Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

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Masquerade dances, titled men wearing the Ozo cap, talking drums, and celebratory noises at the center of which is Chief Afamefuna (Stan Nze), opens the film. However, this festive atmosphere is suddenly disrupted by the discovery of a dead body, foreshadowing the investigative plot that Afamefuna is about to take on. Afam is brought to the police station, where he is questioned by the trilingual ASP Gidado Shehu (Segun Arinze), who hopes to uncover the truth behind the mysterious death. As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the complex web of relationships and dynamics that bind Afamefuna, Paul, and the other Nwa Bois together, exploring themes of brotherhood, greed, and betrayal.

The opening text from the prestigious Harvard Business Review, which recognizes the Igbo Apprenticeship System (IAS) as the largest business incubator in the world, immediately underscores the significance and importance of the film. It takes an exploratory journey into the inner workings of the IAS model, centering on the lives of two Nwa Bois, Afam and Paul. While the dialogue, particularly that of the character Chief Odogwu (Kanayo O Kanayo), may at times delve into educational territory, Afamefuna is far from being a purely educational piece. 

The narrative develops primarily through the reflections of the protagonist, Afamefuna, as he recounts his past during his interrogation. Chief Odogwu, a prominent figure in the Nwa Boi community, takes a young Afam under his wings, a seemingly inconsequential addition to his group of apprentices. As Afam settles into his new role, learning the trade of selling building materials and techniques like Apiriko — a practice where young apprentices inflate the prices of their boss’s goods to earn extra income for themselves — he finds an ally in Paulo, who becomes his kin. Afamefuna and Paulo forge a close-knit friendship, with Paulo taking it upon himself to transform Afamefuna into a true “Lagos boy,” teaching him how to dress, carry himself, and navigate the challenges of city life without falling into trouble. As the story progresses, it becomes difficult to accurately pinpoint the good, the bad, and more importantly, whose side the audience should take. This ambiguity switches when we witness Paulo in a compromising position with Odogwu’s only child, Amaka, played by Atlanta Bridget Johnson. Thus the audience’s sympathies shift, leading them to rally behind Afamefuna, whose loyalty and moral compass are seen in a more favorable light.

When Afamefuna learns Apiriko, he doesn’t succumb to greed, like his troublesome counterpart, Obum (Chuks Joseph). Instead, Afam chooses to share his profit with Odogwu. The film leaves certain threads unexplored — for instance, the possibility of Obum implicating Afamefuna by stealing money and framing him, which would have been a logical and compelling plot development. Instead, the story focuses primarily on the grounded brotherhood between Afamefuna and Paulo, a dynamic that is so easily disrupted when Odogwu unexpectedly chooses to settle Afamefuna before Paulo. This ultimately makes Paulo angry and resentful, causing him to sever his brotherhood with Afamefuna and flee from Odogwu. 

One of the more disappointingly underdeveloped aspects of the film is the character of Amaka. Despite her status as a central figure in the narrative, the audience is never granted a deeper understanding of her internal contemplations and motivations. Amaka is largely relegated to the periphery, her character reduced to a surface-level portrayal of beauty and emotional vulnerability, as she is often depicted crying in most of her scenes. Rather than being established as a multifaceted character in her own right, Amaka is instead sidelined by the other dominant themes and conflicts within the film, serving more as an ornamental “prize” to be won by the two men: Afam and Paulo. The resolution of this love triangle feels rather abrupt and unsatisfying, as Amaka chooses Afamefuna, with the audience left to wonder about the reasoning behind her decision. Was it a calculated move to make Paulo jealous, or did she genuinely have a deeper connection with Afam? These questions remain unanswered, even when we learn that Amaka’s child actually belongs to Paulo, not Afam — a revelation that fuels Paulo’s continued blackmail and manipulation of Afamefuna. This crucial plot point highlights the missed opportunity to explore Amaka’s perspective and provide a more holistic understanding of the complex web of relationships at play.

Another underdeveloped, yet intriguing scene in the film is the arrival of Nneka, Odogwu’s niece, who raises a question about the complete absence of women in Odogwu’s shop, which is instead populated solely by male apprentices. Odogwu’s response to Nneka’s query is both confounding and contradictory. He states, “In our tradition, women do not serve a master.” This sentiment seems to suggest a cultural belief that women should not be subservient to or apprenticed under male authority figures. However, the true intent behind Odogwu’s words remains ambiguous. Perhaps what he meant to convey is that women are not expected to serve masters outside of their own husbands, which would align with more traditional patriarchal notions of a woman’s role being limited to the domestic sphere and male-led household. Unfortunately, the film does not provide any leads, nor does it explore Nneka’s character and perspective any further. Her appearance and the thought-provoking question she raises disappear, leaving the audience to mull over the broader sociocultural implications within the Nwa Boi apprenticeship system.

One of the standout elements of Afamefuna is the exceptional performances delivered by the cast. The majority of the dialogue is in the Igbo language, which contributes greatly to the cultural authenticity and immersion of the viewer. But even more noteworthy is Segun Arinze’s ability to transition into all three major Nigerian languages — Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba — in his portrayal of the character ASP Gidado Shehu. This linguistic versatility is a true testament to Arinze’s acting prowess and adds an additional layer of depth to his character. While the entire cast shines, Paulo, played by Alexx Ekubo, emerges as the true star of the show. Young Paulo’s performance, played by Paul Nnadiekwe, is so compelling that one could easily believe he was once a real-life Nwa Boi, and Ekubo’s portrayal of the adult Paulo, right up until the character’s tragic demise, is simply exceptional. In contrast, Afam, played by Stan Nze, is deliberately portrayed as more reserved and emotionally grounded. Nze skillfully navigates this character trait, ensuring that Afamefuna only reveals certain emotions and vulnerabilities. This performance choice makes it easy for the audience to empathize with Afamefuna, even as they muse on the possibility of him being culpable in  Paul’s murder, despite his strong convictions against it. 

At the end of the film, it feels like there’s much to still be uncovered, deeper layers to the story, and more revelations to be made. But if that could not happen within the runtime of 2 hours, then perhaps it is by Director Kayode Kasum’s design. The movie’s essence lies not necessarily in tying up every loose end but in its ability to capture the richness and complexity of the Igbo cultural landscape. Regardless, Afamefuna is a beautiful cinematic work that brings the Nwa Boi values to light, setting it on a global pedestal. Written by Anyawu Sandra Adaora, Afamefuna celebrates the Igbo language and records the apprenticeship system in the sands of time. Even if the joys of brotherhood and camaraderie captured fail to elicit a smile for most of the film, the radiant smile of Atlanta Bridget Johnson will surely warm the heart.


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