…even if most of the details of the plot will be easily forgotten, Blood Sisters will be remembered for standing out in a sea of unimpressive Netflix-Nollywood productions…
By Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku
Between the exclusive release of King of Boys: The Return of the King in 2021 as the first Nigerian Netflix original series, and the relocation of EbonyLife’s original series to the Netflix platform, it may be surprising to hear Blood Sisters, which premiered on the 5th of May, being touted as Netflix’s first Nigerian original series. Regardless of which of these series is the first legitimate child of the streaming giant, Blood Sisters presented an opportunity for redemption for both EbonyLife and Netflix after the terrible start to 2022 that Chief Daddy 2 was. And while Blood Sisters, directed by Biyi Bandele (Half of a Yellow Sun, Fifty) and Kenneth Gyang (Òlòtūré, Confusion Na Wa), might not be the best crime thriller to come out of Nollywood, it is a dramatic one, and it sure has a lot going for it.
Leading a star-studded cast, Ini Dima-Okojie, and Nancy Isime star as Sarah and Kemi respectively, best friends who find themselves trying to get away with murder after one of them kills Sarah’s abusive fiancé, Kola Ademola (Deyemi Okanlawon), on the day of her traditional marriage. Set in various parts of Lagos, from the upper-class environs of Lekki to the slums of Makoko, the four-part limited series follows the friends’ attempts to escape being caught, both by the police, and by the wealthy and influential Ademola family that Sarah almost married into.
From the first episode, Blood Sisters dives straight into the drama. And what could be more dramatic than a marriage ceremony with a mother-of-the-groom who despises her would-be in-laws (think The Wedding Party), a recovering addict who makes an over-the-top entrance and is very happy to discuss rehab over an engagement dinner, a bride and groom that may very well kill each other before they ever make it to the palm wine carrying ceremony, and a ridiculously obvious assassin lurking around with the “strongest” possible face and attacking a hotel worker just for the sake of it?
At the earliest opportunity, the series spotlights all the elements that will move the show along, from Sarah’s abuse at the hands of Kola, to the Adebola family — as dysfunctional as some of television’s most famous wealthy families (just think Hollywood’s Succession). With imperfect but mostly consistent pacing, the show keeps moving along, buoyed majorly by the suspense of whether Sarah and Kemi will indeed get away with killing the golden boy of such a powerful family. In the process, delicate topics such as domestic violence and abuse, familial rivalry, and systemic corruption all come into play with adequate heaviness, rather than as mere plot points, without overshadowing the central plot, or the drama for that matter. But the drama is almost always laid on a little too thick. Facial expressions are just “too extra” a lot of the time, and dialogues and actions are so overly dramatic that they are often unbelievable. Yet, this melodramatic approach is a Nollywood staple that is sure to lock in local audiences, and it keeps the show interesting and very entertaining for almost four hours that go by considerably swiftly.
Blood Sisters works with a screenplay that is better than most of what Nollywood has produced in recent times. The screenplay actually uses its characters in a manner that furthers the central plot and gives the starry cast roles that they can shine in. But using its characters well is different from writing them well. It is in the latter aspect that the screenplay falls short. Between the characters that make up the Adebayo family, and other secondary characters that always seem to have untold stories waiting to jump out (the character of Inspector Joe is one notable example), many of the characters are either underdeveloped or inconsistent. Furthermore, character motivations are revealed majorly through dialogue, if at all, and they rarely leave any impact deep enough to make such characters relatable.
It certainly helps that the series is blessed with many capable industry heavyweights to help fill the gaps left by the screenplay (albeit inadequately). In fact, Blood Sisters is so star-studded that industry veterans like Bimbo Manuel, Zack Orji, and Joke Silva are enlisted to play even the minutest of characters. At least, most of the acting is wonderful to watch. Isime is almost always so natural in her roles that it seems like she’s really just being herself, and it works here as it has worked in several other films. Dima-Okojie commits to being the whinier and less confident of the friends, and where other actors don extra-serious faces as if they would otherwise be unable to convey the seriousness of their roles, Dima-Okojie stands out for how she wears emotions without ever being excessively expressive. And, apart from the off-putting scowl which Kate Henshaw-Nuttall permanently wears, her magnetic performance is the only thing that saves the one-dimensional and completely unlikeable character that is Uduak, the matriarch of the Adebayo family.
However, the strongest performances of the series are put on by Ramsey Nouah, Kehinde Bankole and Genoveva Umeh. Umeh is simply delightful as Timeyin, the conflicted Adebayo daughter with a history of addiction. Bankole takes a relaxed and subtle approach to villainy that works remarkably well in her role as Olayinka, the scheming wife of Femi (Gabriel Afolayan), the eldest Adebayo son. And Nouah, playing Uncle B, is little more than a glorified bodyguard in this series, but the actor commands such a powerful presence in every scene that he appears, even though he hardly speaks in those scenes (in fact, Nouah doesn’t speak at all for the first two episodes).
It would be remiss to not acknowledge the production design and the overall aesthetics of the series. Between the excellent location choices, the set decors, the costume and just about every other visual element, the world created onscreen is quite engaging in a way that feels genuine without trying too hard.
But if the world of the film feels genuine, there are parts of the storytelling that do not, like a kitchen chase scene that is straight out of Hollywood’s playbook, and a police inspector character — with an inconsistent American accent — that is likely inspired by some detective from some Hollywood flick (although the incomplete American backstory given to said character helps justify his methods, and, I must mention, I so enjoyed watching Wale Ojo in that role that I would happily watch him play the exact role in a well-scripted whodunit).
That said, even if most of the details of the plot will be easily forgotten, Blood Sisters will be remembered for standing out in a sea of unimpressive Netflix-Nollywood productions. On the whole, it is a compelling, binge-worthy crime drama. Heck, it is even worth most of the time that is spent getting to its unexpected end.
(Blood Sisters is streaming here on Netflix.)
Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku, a film critic, writer and lawyer, currently writes from Uyo. Connect with her on Twitter @Nneka_Viv and Instagram @_vivian.nneka.