By Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku
On Friday, the 26th of October, 2021, at the Ebony Life Place, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria, the nominees for the 17th Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) were announced. Somalia produced the most nominated film in the bunch, with its film “The Gravedigger’s Wife” earning ten nominations. But Nigeria was not underrepresented, either. Between an internationally-acclaimed directorial debut and thirty-eight feature film nominations, Nollywood has a substantial bragging right. In our usual detail-oriented manner, Afrocritik presents to you a guide to the sixteen Nollywood feature films nominated this AMAA season.
“EYIMOFE (THIS IS MY DESIRE)”
“Stunning feature debut” is what the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound said about this film. Variety described it as “A clear-eyed portrait of a vibrant city informed by two talented native sons.” In fact, the general critics’ consensus, home and abroad, is that “Eyimofe” is an outstanding film. It is, therefore, no surprise that it would bag seven AMAA nominations, the highest number for a Nigerian film this year. “Eyimofe” tells the stories of a factory technician called Mofe (played by Jude Akwudike) and a hairdresser called Rosa (played by Temi Ami-Williams), two people connected only by shared neighbourhood, their relationships with some supporting characters, and their mutual interest to escape the harsh Nigerian realities and emigrate to Europe.
A feature film directorial debut for twin brothers, Chuko Esiri and Arie Esiri who also wrote and produced the film, it is set majorly in Lagos. It had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival 2020, was officially selected to be screened at several international film festivals in seventeen countries to critical acclaim, earned several nominations, and won a good number of awards. In April 2021, the film returned home to Nigerian cinemas, although it has long left the cinemas and is now a very difficult film for Nigerians to access. Nonetheless, as far as the AMAA is concerned, “Eyimofe” is a strong contender in the most important category: Best Film. It could also win the Awards for Achievement in Sound, Achievement in Editing, and the AMAA – National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) Award for Best Nigerian Film. In addition, Jude Akwudike is a nominee for Best Actor in a Leading Role while the Esiri brothers may very well win the Awards for Best Director and Best First Feature Film by a Director.
Tunde Kelani has been making quality films for over four decades. Most recently, he tried his hands at a Yoruba language musical biopic, a first-of-its-kind film, chronicling the story of Yoruba Apala music legend, Ayinla Omowura — his rise to fame, relationships with women, and the tragedy that ultimately befell him. The film premiered in cinemas in June 2021 and was well received by critics. Aptly titled “Ayinla,” it was full of energy, basked in the glory of its nostalgic soundtrack, and it featured what was probably the best performance by a lead actor in a Nigerian film this year. For his performance in this film, Lateef Adedimeji is unsurprisingly a nominee in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category. In addition to that, the unprecedented film is a nominee for the AMAA Award for Achievement in Cinematography, the Ousmane Sembene AMAA Award for Best Film in an African Language, and the AMAA – NFVCB Award for Best Nigerian Film, altogether making it a four-time AMAA nominee.
“LA FEMME ANJOLA”
Screenwriter, Tunde Babalola has quite the reputation. He was the brilliant writer behind Kunle Afolayan’s masterpiece and AMAA 2015 award winner “October 1.” He was also the writer behind Tunde Kelani’s 2011 AMAA-nominated “Maami.” He wrote Afolayan’s “Citation” which we will still come to in the course of this list. He also wrote Mildred Okwo’s March 2021 “La Femme Anjola,” the fantastic psychological-thriller film noir about a young stockbroker who falls in love with the wife of a rich gangster. No, “La Femme Anjola” does not have a nomination for Achievement in Screenplay, but it does grab four nominations in this year’s AMAA. Rita Dominic and Nonso Bassey, its lead actors, have received nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Leading Role respectively while the film itself has been nominated for Achievement in Sound as well as the AMAA – NFVCB Award for Best Nigerian Film.
This film is yet to premiere in Nigerian cinemas or on Netflix Nigeria, but it is already making waves. It was recently selected as the closing film for the Africa International Film Festival, an envious achievement—at least, going by the 4,000 other films that were submitted from over 100 countries. Directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters, it has the 2020 Nigerian anti-police brutality protests as its backdrop. Interestingly, the events of the film occur within twenty-four hours. It features several reputable Nollywood actors and even an unexpected reality show celebrity. Its cast definitely works for it, because Kelechi Udegbe has emerged as a nominee for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Oluwabamike Olawunmi-Adenibuyan (Big Brother Naija’s Bam-Bam) has received a nomination for Best Young/Promising Actor. “Collision Course” was also nominated for Achievement in Screenplay and the AMAA – NFVCB Award for Best Nigerian Film.
When Kunle Afolayan’s “Citation” debuted on Netflix in October 2020, it was more than another Netflix Original. It was a statement in a film industry that often perpetuates rape culture. Just a few months before the release of “Citation,” “Dear Affy,” a movie that presented sexual harassment and even rape as entertainment, had premiered in cinemas as a Valentine’s Day gift to Nigerians. But “Citation” sparked a conversation on Nigeria’s rape culture in a remarkable way. Afolayan’s film, written by Tunde Babalola, saw a female student take on an important professor who attempted to rape her. Once again, Babalola’s screenplay did not get nominated, but “Citation” deservedly bagged three AMAA nominations. It was nominated for Achievement in Soundtrack and for the AMAA – NFVCB Award for Best Nigerian Film. Also, Ini Edo’s performance earned her a nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
“OMO GHETTO: THE SAGA”
It is becoming a rare occurrence to see a Nollywood film that is humorous without being a slapstick. It is even rarer to see a Nollywood film where one actor properly plays two characters and the editing does not fail. JJC Skillz and Funke Akindele-Bello’s crime comedy film “Omo Ghetto: The Saga” excels at these two rarities. A sequel to the 2010 crime comedy “Omo Ghetto,” it follows a gangster and her identical twin sister, both of them having nothing but family and looks in common, as the former holds on strongly to the thug life and struggles to integrate into the rich family that adopted her and her sister. This movie was so successful that after its theatrical release on Christmas day, 2020, it grossed way over hundred million naira in its opening week and went on to beat the record previously set by “The Wedding Party” as the highest ever grossing film in Nollywood. Akindele-Bello, who played both sisters, bagged a nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role while the film itself was nominated for Achievement in Editing and for the AMAA – NFVCB Award for Best Nigerian Film, making a total of three nominations.
“RATTLESNAKE: THE AHANNA STORY”
When I reviewed Play Network Studios’ modern-day remake of Amaka Igwe’s 1995 classic, which was also Ramsey Nouah’s directorial debut, we had our reservations, but we concluded that the film leaves you tingling with pride at the growth in our movie industry that it reveals. “Rattlesnake: The Ahanna Story” follows the titular character, Ahanna, and his army of thieves as they carry out a series of heists and rob their way into riches and danger. The film earned a nomination for the AMAA – NFVCB Award for Best Nigerian Film, and Gloria Anozie-Young’s performance earned her a nomination in the category of Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
In this heavy and beautifully emotional drama that, like “Eyimofe,” explores the desperation to leave Nigeria, a boxer with the potential to be great, travels to New York to pursue his dreams of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, leaving behind a pregnant wife and a 2-year-old daughter. Twenty-five years later, he returns home to Nigeria, having lost everything, hoping to get back his estranged family. “Gone” was made in 2018, screened at the Calgary Black Film Festival in May, 2021, and was released on Netflix in October 2021. For this film, director Daniel Ademinokan earned a nomination for the Michael Anyiam Osigwe AMAA Award for Best Film by an African Living Abroad and Bimbo Manuel’s performance as a warm and stable father figure/coach earned him a nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
To be honest, the fact that this film was nominated for two awards is shocking. “Shadow Parties” is about a deadly communal clash between two fictional communities, fuelled by shadow parties for financial purposes. It had a great message, but the execution was terrible and it received poor reviews from critics. However, it managed to get nominated in the AMAA – NFVCB Award for Best Nigerian Film category and also for the AMAA Award for Achievement in Production Design.
“LADY BUCKIT AND THE MOTLEY MOPSTERS”
In December, 2020, Nigeria saw its first feature-length animated film arrive in its cinemas. A 3D children fantasy film, Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters was probably the most family-friendly Nigerian feature film this season. It features a maths-genius kid, an inter-tribal couple as her parents, a pet rat, and several weird characters. Plus the characters are adorable and the film actually goes back in time to the pre-crude oil era in Nigeria. This animation cannot be said to be a bad first, especially with its nomination for the Jubril Malafia AMAA Award for Best Animation.
“NNEKA THE PRETTY SERPENT”
Another Play Network Studios’ remake of a Nollywood classic, “Nneka the Pretty Serpent” is at once a revenge-thriller, a horror, a mystery and a fantasy movie. Unlike the 1994 Zeb Ejiro film of the same name where Nneka comes into the world possessed by a marine spirit and just ruins as many lives as possible, the December 2020 Tosin Igho film is about Nneka setting out to take revenge against her parents’ murderers with supernatural powers which she gets years after the murders. The general critic consensus is that the “Nneka the Pretty Serpent” remake did not cut it. Many critics did not feel differently about the visual effects. Fortunately for the film, however, it appears that the Africa Film Academy might feel differently. Whether this film will win the award remains to be known, but it will forever be recognised as a nominee for the AMAA 2021 Award for Achievement in Visual Effect.
“THIS LADY CALLED LIFE”
In what was likely the only adequate romantic comedy Nollywood provided this season, Kayode Kasum explored love against the backdrop of parental tyranny. “This Lady Called Life” premiered in cinemas in October 2020 before being released on Netflix in April 2021. It was by no means a perfect film, especially with its failure to properly and wholly resolve its subplots, but it performed excellently as a romantic comedy. For the first time in a long time, Nollywood gave us more than a couple to root for; it gave us a reason to root for them. It also had a lovely soundtrack, with Kenny Kore’s “I believe” as the film’s signature music. It definitely feels great to see this film nominated, at least, for Achievement in Soundtrack.
“Blackmail” is an action thriller following the story of a Nigerian who has garnered considerable fame as an actor in London, as he battles a sextortion lawsuit instituted against him by a crime lord. It was filmed in London, but it is yet to be released in cinemas or on streaming platforms. It has started to make a name for itself, though, with its recent selection for screening at the Urban British Film Festival. For “Blackmail,” director Obi Emelonye, who also happens to have written the screenplay for “Gone,” earned a nomination for the Michael Anyiam Osigwe AMAA Award for Best Film by an African Living Abroad.
“THE FIRST CALL”
Like “Blackmail” and “Collision Course,” “The First Call” has not been released in cinemas or on streaming platforms, but it has started to gain attention. It explores the introspectively notorious effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on people across the world. It is a film about a father working to reconcile his estranged family after his brother dies from the virus. “The First Call” screened at the Toronto Lift-Off Film Festival, the Silicon Valley African Film Festival, and the CineFAM Film Festival. Its director, Angela Onuora, has now received a nomination for the Michael Anyiam Osigwe AMAA Award for Best Film by an African Living Abroad.
A rare collaboration between the Nigerian Armed Forces and Nollywood birthed this war film where an Air Force fighter pilot, who is also a husband and father, gets caught in the war against insurgency and must find his way to safety. Written, produced, directed and edited by Paul Apel Papel in collaboration with the Nigerian Air Force, “Eagle Wings” aimed at refining the impression that Nigerians have of the armed forces. Whether it succeeded at that or not, and whether it even succeeded as a movie in the first place are topics for another day. What is relevant here is that the Nigerian Air Force really showed up for this movie, training the cast and working with the crew to provide locations, equipment, including real aircraft, weapons and costumes. It is for this last bit that “Eagle Wings” receives a nod this AMAA season, earning a nomination for Achievement in Costume Design.
“OBA BI OLORUN”
A notorious man with a depraved sexual preference for non-consenting women suddenly discovers that he is a king’s son. Of course, with his coronation as king, the kingdom is plunged into a dark era. This is the premise of “Oba Obi Olorun,” a Yoruba language cultural film that premiered in select cinemas in March 2021. In typical cultural film fashion, it is peppered with bounteous parables and eulogies. If you are wondering what this film has over the average cultural film, the answer is nothing significant. But it does deserve credit for its wardrobe choices, the only reason it made it to the AMAA nominations list where it competes for the Award for Achievement in Costume Design. Of all the Nigerian films nominated this AMAA Season, “Oba Bi Olorun” is probably the most unlikely to win. But unlikely wins have happened before, and we certainly hope for the best for all the films on this list come November 28, 2021 when the AMAA Gala holds.
Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku, a film critic, writer and lawyer, currently writes from Akwa Ibom.