Nigerian Film Landmarks That Shaped 2021
Nigerian cinema has constantly been on a pedestal of progress in recent years.
From blockbuster remakes, to ‘big budget’ international collaborations with the streaming giants, and even multimillion naira box office sales, it has been one rollercoaster ride of achievements in the Nigerian film industry.
Let’s take a look at some of the iconic moments and releases that shaped the moviedom industry in 2021.
When Netflix inked a deal with the award-winning filmmaker Kunle Afolayan on the iconic social satire, “Citation,” in October 2020, it marked the beginning of a myriad of similar collaborations. Earlier in March, this year, the American streaming giant commissioned three new feature films from him, expanding their partnership with him. According to reports, one is a historical drama, another is a folklore fantasy, while the third is a character drama. The historical drama, “Swallow” is a film adaptation of the book of the same title by Nigerian-American author Sefi Atta. It was eventually released on the streaming service on the 1st of October, 2021.
The buck didn’t stop at Afolayan. After a very successful outing with the feature film “King of Boys” in 2018, Kemi Adetiba returned with a sequel in the form of a TV series titled “King of Boys: The Return of the King.” This time, she partnered with Netflix, making “The Return of the King.” It is the very first Netflix Original series from Nigeria (even though the first Nigerian original series to actually be ordered by Netflix is a yet-to-be-released project by Akin Omotoso). The “King of Boys” sequel picks up five years after the events of the first film, with the protagonist, Eniola Salami, returning to Nigeria after a five-year exile and diving straight into the fierce competition for the seat of the Governor of Lagos State. The series is meant to be a limited series, but after its successful run, who knows what Adetiba and Netflix might decide?
The result of the very first major collaboration between the Nigerian Air Force and Nollywood, “Eagle Wings” is regarded as the first actual military-based Nigerian film. “Eagle Wings” follows an Air Force fighter pilot who gets caught in the war against insurgency and must find his way to safety. The Nigerian Air Force co-produced this film alongside writer, producer and director Paul Apel Papel, and the contributions of the Air Force was instrumental in the film’s AMAA nomination for Achievement in Costume Design. The goal of the collaboration was to humanise military officers and refine the impression that Nigerians have of the Armed Forces. The film was not a box office hit, but it was certainly a landmark moment for the industry this year.
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The critically acclaimed Nigerian drama film, “Eyimofe (This is My Desire)” first premiered at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival. However, it returned home to Nigerian cinemas in April 2021, before being released again in US and North American cinemas in July, this year. The debut feature film by the fraternal duo Chuko and Arie Esiri was well received on the international stage. It won several international awards and currently maintains a 100% score on the prestigious global critic site, Rotten Tomatoes. It was later nominated for seven Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), including a nomination for Best Film, winning in five categories on Award Night. Set in Lagos, it tells the parallel stories of two Nigerians in their bid to move to Europe and escape the harsh realities of their lives in Nigeria.
“Ayinla” might not be the best Nigerian film to grace the cinemas this year (see “Eyimofe” above) or even the most popular one, but it was a remarkable film that was very well received. Directed by veteran filmmaker Tunde Kelani, the Yoruba language film chronicles the rise to fame and the ultimate downfall of Ayinla Omowura, Yoruba Apala legend. The film earned four AMAA nominations and won one AMAA award. Its release in June 2021 marked a landmark moment for the Nigerian film industry as a first-of-its-kind film: the first Nigerian musical biopic to grace the big screen.
On the 21st of September, 2021, Ebonylife and Sony Pictures Television announced Àló, an African Writers Initiative, to provide a platform for writers of African heritage and discover authentic African stories that will resonate with global viewers. This came after Ebonylife and Sony partnered in 2018 to co-develop three scripted TV series to be distributed globally and after Ebonylife signed a multi-title deal with Netflix in 2020 for two original series.
Under the Àló writers initiative, successful candidates will be allowed to enter into a series of pilot development agreements with EbonyLife and Sony, and completed projects will be pitched to international broadcasters for their consideration.
It is not the first Netflix Original or even the first Kunle Afolayan film to premiere on Netflix (see above), but “A Naija Christmas” is the first Netflix holiday film from Nigeria. A romantic drama, it follows three sons as they rush to fulfil their ailing mother’s wish to bring home a wife by Christmas day and win the attached prize, the family house. The Christmas film features Rachel Oniga in one of her last roles before her sad death on the 30th of July, 2021 from a heart-related ailment. It does not appear that the film was one of the three commissioned by Netflix in March 2021, so we can still expect two more Kunle Afolayan-Netflix features, at least, in the coming year.