“Ụnọ: The F in Family” Spotlights Relationship Hiccups and Reconciliation 

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Ebuka Njoku marked his directorial debut with the release of Yahoo+ on Netflix in 2023, a crime drama co-produced with Lorenzo Menakaya. The film, which was made with a modest budget, gave us an insight into the kinds of productions the writer-director was interested in championing: films with the use of local languages, with actions bereft of sensationalism, with free-flowing, authentic but intellectual conversations. Yahoo+ sought to explain money rituals as a myth, reasoning that the term is only a cover for organ harvesting. With characters like Ose and Ikolo driving conversations around such get-rich-quick schemes, the film helped to clear misconceptions that seem to be rooted in Old Nollywood productions such as Living In Bondage.

In his latest film Ụnọ: The F in Family, Ebuka Njoku blends humor with drama, exploring the essence of family and relationships as the bedrock of human existence. The film follows the story of Junior (Keezyto), a talented and ambitious artist, who returns home to his family with a fianceé, Rukayat (Tomi Ojo), many years after being away from them. Junior’s return is first met with unfavorable reactions from his family because he had left unannounced and not maintained contact with them throughout his absence. Soon after settling in, certain harsh realities unfold. Junior’s sister, Ada (Sophia Chisom), has a daughter from her youth service days, who poses as the last child of the family. His younger brother, Gozie (DJ Capello), is now a smoker and layabout after dropping out of the university. Junior’s father, Uzuakpundu (Nkem Owoh), and Rukayat, share a past secret, which, when revealed, almost threatens the relationship between Junior and Rukayat. 

As the story unfolds, Ada finds genuine connection in her newly forged, burgeoning relationship with Kenizibe (Alvin Abayomi), a photographer and Junior’s buddy. The conversations between Kenizibe and Ada help her learn to forgive herself, embrace the reality of motherhood and forge a desirable identity that is detached from her murky past. Through the character of Uzuakpundu, the film exposes the expectations of a family head as not only a reasonable leader but also a mediator and peacemaker. We see evidence of his authority when he expresses reservations for Junior’s would-be wife and treats Kenizibe with initial suspicion in a bid to protect his daughter. Then again, his good judgment and wisdom prevails as he admits his fault, intercedes for Rukayat and reconciles with his wife.

Conversations in Ụnọ: The F in Family are rendered in English and Igbo, with the Igbo language used to capture the cultural context and background of the production. The use of indigenous language also corroborates the filmmakers’ appreciation for their similar cultural ties to Igbo-dominated Southeast Nigeria: Ebuka Njoku spent his formative years in Anambra, while Lorenzo Menakaya, who was born and raised in Enugu, hails from the Menakaya dynasty of Umunya, Anambra. Fate brought the filmmakers together at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where they discovered they seemed to share similar creative virtues. As with Yahoo+ where Ebuka Njoku claimed to have wielded the linguistic options at his disposal as “a creative  and political decision” with such dexterity that brought “intellectualism to our local languages”, Uno: The F in Family takes a step further in navigating familial conflicts and reunion in a way that is authentic and relatable. 

“When we started partnering, one of the things we wanted was authenticity through storytelling,” says co-producer Lorenzo Menakaya in an interview with Culture Custodian ahead of the cinema release of the project. “When I talk about authentic storytelling, I mean everything that shows that we are internationally trying to tell a story that is about us, for us and by us to the rest of the world.”

But this “politics” of language is probably most conspicuous in and heralded by the title of the film. “Ụnọ” is the Igbo word for “home” or “house” and, also, a metaphor for family. “Ebuka told me”, Menakaya explains, “that he wanted a title that was local. When people look at the F in Family, they are thinking of the first letter ‘F’.  you watch it, you know that it’s beyond the letter and is also about the crazy things in family.” 

While there are tensions in the family throughout the film, the use of humor douses them—for instance, Kenizibe’s seemingly sarcastic disposition around moments when Ada relives untoward romantic and pregnancy memories. However, Ụnọ: The F in Family ends on a positive note,  with all erring parties admitting their faults and the intrigues getting resolved. Its ending is a reminder to everyone of the importance of love and communication as the pillars of every meaningful relationship.