But despite how interesting and commendable the societal issues addressed, the series makes a habit of dumping haphazard information on viewers.
By Seyi Lasisi
When I had a passive interest in Nollywood films, the earliest Funke Akindele project I saw was Jenifa’s Diary (2015), her popular TV series. Closely following Jenifa’s Diary was her YouTube series, Aiyetoro Town. In these popular series, Akindele, who is often the lead character, is distinct for her distrustful spoken English and her passion for carving out a successful story for herself despite coming from a working-class background. For me, these series were the template for the lawyer-turned-filmmaker’s cinematic landscape. Now, as an active viewer and scrutineer of Nollywood productions, it is easy to recall Battle on Buka Street (2022) and Omo Ghetto: The Saga (2020). In these films, as in her new project, She Must Be Obeyed, Akindele takes on multiple roles as actor, writer, producer, director, and, quite atypically, production designer (as in Omo Ghetto: The Saga).
But her dominating influence in her productions is only half the story. What bonds these films and series is their comical disposition, and Akindele’s ability to casually address societal issues. Battle on Buka Street, beyond the witty story of two disgruntled and vengeful women, shows how sibling rivalry is passed on to children in polygamous households. This pattern has resulted in monumental box office returns for the filmmaker. However, with her recent production, which is jarring to discover is a Prime Video original, it appears that the filmmaker needs to take a necessary creative break.
In She Must Be Obeyed (also shortened as She), Siyanbola, who is also She, (Funke Akindele) is a musician with multiple identities. To outsiders, she is good. But she is toxic, with an unfriendly attitude. She appears to be jubilant about her fellow female artiste, Tito’s (Veeiye) ascension, but she is also quick to scheme her downfall. Beside Siyabola are two men who occupy distinct positions in her professional life. There is the effeminate Sisqo (Akah Nnani), Siyanbola’s manager, and Bayo (Lateef Adedimeji), her relative, driver, and errand boy. Keeping She’s household in order are Ruka (Lizy Jay), her housemaid, and Etim (Bishop Imeh), her chef. Outside the bubbling circle of She’s influence, there is Adaeze (Racheal Okonkwo), a lady struggling to provide for her family. But despite her hard work, Mama Cruise (Patience Ozokwor), her mother, and Livinus, her brother (Mike Ezuruonye), seem to have mastered the art of frustrating her efforts. At first glance, there is little correlation between Adaeze’s story with that of She, but as viewers will learn, Adeaze’s voice fuels She’s musical success. When one leaves Adaeze’s working-class circle, there is Victoria (Nancy Isime), who is passionate about working for She.
The series, co-written by Collins C. Okoh, Samuel Adekanmi, Jemine Edukugho, Akinlabi Ishola, Oloruntola Ayodele, and Akindele as the head writer, has worthwhile material to play with. But the progression of the storyline makes it often appear bland. The numerous characters which should provide interesting subplots are treated with indifference as the series dotes attention solely on the lead actress’ story. This causes the audience to have the least emotional connection with other characters and their stories. For the five-hour showtime spread across five episodes, the series constantly orbits around She.
She Must Be Obeyed, with the presence of Nigerian veteran actors — Ozokwor and Chiwetalu Agu — boasts of a cross-generational ensemble. This casting choice, for certain viewers, will kindle nostalgia. However, as the series progresses, Ozokwor’s performance as a careless drunk is unsettling to watch. For the new-generation actors (led by Akindele), their performance, which is anchored on sloppy dialogues, is painful to watch. Thus, while the series wobbly moves towards a tense situation, the onscreen performances do not match up. The acting from the cast is knackered and inertial, save for Lizzy Jay and Nnani’s spirited performances.
The series, however, is not without its merit. As Akindele’s production often hides a societal issue underneath a comical atmosphere, She appears to dissect the toxic environment and the facade of the Nigerian music industry. This aside, childhood trauma and its damaging effects also get screen time. The childhood trauma of the lead character influences her obsession with wanting the limelight for herself. She has constantly had her ego crushed since childhood due to alopecia, and while the series does not reveal so, it has caused her to have low self-esteem. As such, she makes sure to always be in the spotlight by sabotaging her music colleagues and workers. The soundtracks are also alluring to the ears. So, even when the series pushes one to the threshold of frustration, the music calms one’s nerves. She’s song selections are a sonic representation of her obsession with having the spotlight. Hence, the soundtracks help convey her mindset to viewers. But despite how interesting and commendable the societal issues the series addresses, it makes a habit of dumping haphazard information on viewers. The story progression of She Must Be Obeyed, much as its lead character, has a fascination for chaos and illogical revelations, which in hindsight, should be important to the plot. The conversation appears aimless, and the cast occasionally fizzles out only to resurrect at the least expected time.
I suspect that Akindele, like most mainstream Nollywood filmmakers, simply wanted to make a movie without careful consideration of whether or not it hangs together. And because they whimsically thread “serious” subject matters, filmmakers expect the audience to feel deeply connected to their production. Filmmakers often forget or perhaps do not know, that exploring a weighty subject does not necessarily translate into a great film. With how draining the series is to watch, Akindele deserves and needs a creative break. She has earned the right to take a recess.
(She Must be Obeyed is streaming on Prime Video)
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 it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org