Akindele understands quotidian Nigerian experiences, and creating films that explore these has become a constant in her filmmaking career.
By Seyi Lasisi
Funke Akindele has become known in film circles for a couple of reasons. First, Nollywood film lovers unanimously agree that her continuous cinematic releases are the last thread “holding” the already slumping cinema-going culture in Nigeria. This assertion is not unsubstantiated. For two successive years, she has set groundbreaking box-office records in the country. And with an opening weekend box-office number of N122 million for her latest production, A Tribe Called Judah, Akindele is poised to break previous set records.
Secondly, Akindele – so-called the box office queen – understands the benefits of marketing one’s film without restraint. She is able to leverage social media platforms, creating eye-catching content, however facile it may appear, and harnessing the fan base of each actor in her films – a marketing strategy that attracts lots of attention. Thirdly, despite the chaos that surrounds the behind-the-scenes aspect of filmmaking, she still creates a spot for herself as a major character in her films and TV shows, functioning as a writer, director, producer, and costume designer in almost all her films. Akindele also understands quotidian Nigerian experiences, and creating films that explore these has become a constant in her filmmaking career. From Aiyetoro Town (2019), Jenifa’s Diary (2015), She Must Be Obeyed (2023) Omo Ghetto (2020), and Battle on Buka Street (2022), the filmmaker features relatable working-class stories. All these multifaceted sides collide to make A Tribe Called Judah – a fitting example of an entertaining Nigerian family drama.
Co-written by Akindele, Collins C. Okoh, and Akinlabi, the film revolves around Jedidah (Funke Akindele) and her five boys called Jedidah’s boys. The boys have different fathers from various Nigerian tribes, and as the film portrays, Jedidah has a scorching love for her children. But despite her unwavering love, her boys have created apparent factions among themselves. On one side is Emeka (Jide Kene Achufusi), the only seemingly well-read child in the family who works as a sales boy at a furniture shop where he is constantly scrutinised by the company’s manager, Collette (Nse Ikpi-Etim), and berated by the owner (Uzor Arukwe), who is also involved in money laundering activities. In Emeka’s faction is Adamu (Uzee Usman), who also shares his calm disposition, and is often found brokering peace among the brothers. On the opposing camp is Pere (Timini Egbuson), the family kleptomaniac, Oluwashina (Tobi Makinde) the street urchin, and Ejiro (Olumide Oworu), the lastborn and visual artist, who with his girlfriend Testimony (Genovevah Umeh), cons people for gains. Although each child has a distinct life perception and motivation, they are united by their unflinching love for their mother. Thus, even as the film tries to give each son a subplot, it often connects to Jedidah’s story.
Jedidah, ever-spirited and generous, can pass as a community philanthropist. However, when the once vibrant Jedidah becomes immobile due to a health crisis, the boys must find a means to treat their ailing mother. The situation is reminiscent of how challenging being chronically ill in Nigeria can be for struggling households, and their relentless effort to source funds proves futile until they decide to plan a heist. This introduces an interesting angle into the already entertaining film.
There is keen attention to the interior and exterior settings in A Tribe Called Judah. The interior design of the Judah household – the torn Passover Feast wallpaper, the carpet held together by multiple pieces of tape, and Ejiro’s painting splattered and sheltered in a corner of the room – shows the interest in detail, and how Akindele sets up the film’s production design as close to reality as possible. The houses appear lived in and not staged, and this, once again, elevates the genuineness of the Nigerian working-class experience the film tries to portray.
Another intriguing and commendable aspect of the film is the unity in the family. The boys can understand each other without hassle, despite their different languages. This suggests a certain level of intimacy and friendship exists in the family, and while they have justifiable grievances against each other, there is still love and care among themselves. Quite the archetypal Nigerian mother, not only does Jedidah pray for her children, but she is also ever battle-ready to protect them physically.
One can confidently say that A Tribe Called Judah is Akindele’s most coherent production in recent history. The world-building and story follow a linear and enjoyable pathway as opposed to the convoluted story development in her earlier releases. The actors are also pleasurable to watch, and Ejiro and Testimony’s intentionality and dedication to each other are entertainingly delivered. Other actors bring commendable performances to the film and make for a thrilling cinematic experience.
A Tribe Called Judah is a worthwhile film, and its tardy moments make it all the more rewarding. Akindele has a dominating presence in her films and can infiltrate these productions with her identity, with productions often centring around everyday household situations. And this recent production is an indication of the growth in the handling of her creative output. Hence, for families and individuals hoping to have a great time during the holiday period, Akindele’s film is deserving of the time and money.
(A Tribe Called Judah is currently showing in cinema)
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how they align with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: email@example.com.