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“Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” Review: Bolanle Austen-Peters Skillfully Conveys a Political Treatise in This Biopic

“Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” Review: Bolanle Austen-Peters Skillfully Conveys a Political Treatise in This Biopic

“Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” Review: Bolanle Austen-Peters Skillfully Conveys a Political Treatise in This Biopic | Afrocritik

By presenting fragments of Funmilayo’s life, the biopic doesn’t also attempt to be a Wikipedia page of her story, but a representation of pivotal moments of her life.

By Seyi Lasisi

Upon watching Bolanle Austen-PetersFunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, I made a tweet that not only registered my praise for the biopic but also passively documented my trauma from watching several Nollywood feature-lengths of 2024. With Netflix, Prime Video, and Showmax constantly churning out films and TV shows that are at best shoddy drafts, Austen-Peters’ film quickly distances itself from the fold. In hindsight, not only does the biopic separate itself from other numerous shabby productions, but the film belongs to the canon of Nollywood best films of 2024. 

Written by Tunde Babalola, the biopic is distilled. It does not seek to reiterate in totality the biography of the fierce and vocal political activist, but also Funmilayo’s internal conflict as a human. The biopic begins after the well-documented military invasion of her son, Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s haven, Kalakuta. Admitted to the hospital, Isabell (Tatiana Nassar Boudokhane), a Spanish journalist, interviews the elderly Funmilayo (Joke Silver). These questions lead Funmilayo and the film on a seamless retrospective voyage about the past. From here, we follow the young Funmilayo (played by Iyimide Aluko-Olumoko) from her teenage and academic years where she interacts and stands up to her bullies. These early scenes set the tone for her distaste for oppression. In Abeokuta Grammar School, she meets Israel (played with laudable vigour by Iremide Adeoye) who, over the years, will become not just her partner but her passionate supporter. The biopic equally captures Ransome-Kuti’s political and advocacy life with equal zest. 

Troubled about the Alake (Adebayo Salami), the spiritual and traditional ruler of Abeokuta, who in cohort, with Dundee (Peter Thomas), symbolic of the imperialist British Empire, oppresses Abeokuta’s working-class women, Funmilayo (Kehinde Bankole), now a fairly comfortable woman,  seeks justice for these women.  At first, she uses a tranquil method to reduce the subjugation. But the Alake’s and the British Empire’s constant reluctance to bulge or rescind the oppressive taxes on the women lead to a fierce women-led protest.  

“Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti” Review: Bolanle Austen-Peters Skillfully Conveys a Political Treatise in This Biopic | Afrocritik
A still from Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Though primarily about Funmilayo’s political and biographical story, Austen-Peters’s biopic is faithful in its attention to other characters. These characters in their distinct roles added texture and depth to the story of the fearless female leader. Eniola (played by an eager Omowumi Dada), a member of the Abeokuta Women’s Union, and more importantly the market women, led by Mama Supo (Bukky Ogunnote) and Iya Gbangba (Esther Oluwayemi), are important figures in reminiscing on Funmilayo’s story. Quite commendable, Babalola’s script (which won Best Writing in a Movie at the 2024 AMVCA) doesn’t over-diminish or over-emphasise the overt importance of these different characters. There is that sense of respect and understanding that the audience, unmindful of their degree of familiarity with history, can instinctively understand who a character is. Hence, the biopic, courtesy of Babalo’s script, is barren of redundant expositions. 

By presenting fragments of Funmilayo’s life, the biopic doesn’t also attempt to be a Wikipedia page of her story, but a representation of pivotal moments of her life. What the script constantly accentuates is the place of the market women in Funmilayo’s victory against the Alake’s tyrannical rule. At important points during the women-led protest when the market women offer words of encouragement and praise, Funmilayo persistently reminds them of their importance to the struggle. 

With each film, Bankole reiterates her prowess as a world-class actress. Biodun Stephen’s Sista shows a unique dimension to Bankole’s performance which gets even more intense in this Austen-Peters biopic. There is that eagerness in her performance to subsume her entirety and body in homage to the role she plays. In Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, her gait, body movements, and dialogue show not just an actress playing a role,  but an actress so intimately familiar with what is required of her like it is conjoined to her. 

Kehinde Bankole jpeg
Kehinde Bankole stars as Funmilayo in the biopic

Bamkole’s performance gains additional layers of strength and depth when she slips into the Egba dialect during the women-led protest. Not only is there zest for performing parts that need fierceness, but when the script requires vulnerability and emotions, Bankole’s countenance courageously carries them. For other actors on the film’s set, there is equal intention and intensity in performing their best. Although with limited screen time, Adeoye and Aluko-Olumoko’s performance set the tone for the film with their laudable performances. Also, Ogunnote and Oluwayemi’s performances aren’t lacking in fervour either, as women who controlled the protest and market women. 

Another alluring aspect of the biopic is how it, in reiterating Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti’s story, intensely discusses what feminism is and should be. Using Funmilayo’s story, the film shows how proponents of feminism and feminist theories don’t live up to their sole responsibility  — of protecting women — if they are selective in their support of women’s rights. Funmilayo received tepid responses from the women upon forming the Abeokuta Ladies’ Club, a passive feminist opposition to the Alake’s tyranny. In a quest for more radical and revolutionary responses from the women and intent on blurring the social divides between Abeokuta women, Funmilayo created the Abeokuta Women’s Union, a movement that witnessed enthusiastic responses from women from not just Abeokuta but neighbouring communities. This aspect of the film shows Funmilayo’s mantra: feminism will be tepid if it doesn’t recognise the shared oppression of women by patriarchal and capitalist society. 

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FunmilayoRansome Kuti poster 1

Riddled with ideological and political moments, the film casually slips into a comical atmosphere for audiences. The writing occasionally fades the tense situation by subtly instilling comical situations and dialogues. From a historical perspective, what the film gets perfectly is the kinship between the Alake’s oppression of the women and the British Empire’s oppression of Africans. The reliance on its colonies post-World War 2 meant heightened oppression of African subjects. And in Austen-Peters’ Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the women bear that burden without caution. A review of the biopic will be incomplete without a statement on how tradition and culture are used by society to subjugate women. Often, patriarchal society uses worn-out customs and traditions to cower women into submission and obedience. 

Having directed Collision Course and Man of God, Austen-Peters’ interest in pursuing political and social commentary movies is stated. With Collision Course,  homage is given to the EndSars protest and Man of God is a prodigal son-esque story with reference to Fela Kuti. In both films, there is a lurking political and social commentary which was often unarticulated. But, with Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, probably due to the subject’s well-established political activism,  Austen-Peters’ interest shines bright. Long may this ambition and scale continue. 

Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian creative 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:

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