On August 5, 2021, Nigerian movie producer Mo Abudu acquired rights to produce a movie with Will Packer based on a detailed article, “The Fall of the Billionaire Gucci Master” about Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, by Evan Ratliff, a Bloomberg journalist. According to the Bloomberg article, Hushpuppi made millions of dollars by business email compromise (BEC) scams around the world. He was arrested in Dubai in June 2020 and pled guilty to money laundering charges last month.
Speaking on the project, Abudu said: “EbonyLife is uniquely positioned to ensure the depth and authenticity of this film. This is why we needed to partner with a major Hollywood producer like Will Packer Productions. They are equally invested in telling stories that resonate with our audiences. We understand the environment of poverty and deprivation that breeds highly talented and fundamentally flawed characters like Hushpuppi. And WPP knows how to create stories with global appeal.”
On his part, Packer said: “Ten months ago, Mo Abudu pitched us a rich and entertaining concept steeped in Nigerian culture that can only be told with the help of her unique perspective. Together we knew Evan’s work was the definitive telling and the perfect narrative of this saga.”
This is not the first of such partnerships by Nigerian movie producers to produce original movies based on African narrative for the global audience. In June 2020, Netflix Inc., American top content platform and production company, signed a multi-title deal with Mo Abudu’s EbonyLife to create two original series. Among the highlights is a film adaptation of “Death and the King’s Horseman,” a play by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, and a series based on Lola Shoneyin’s best-selling debut novel, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.”
What do these partnerships mean for Nigeria and Africa?
“N is for Naija. N is for Nollywood. N is the 14th alphabet. 14 is also how many great talents you’re looking at. N is for Netflix. But most importantly… hello, Nigeria!” [sic]
At 7:24 pm on February 25, 2020, Netflix Naija tweeted for the first time. The rest, as they say, is history. Though the news was laden with joy, it was not a surprise, given the rate at which Netflix was expanding across the world. An official arrival in Nigeria was only a matter of time.
Since the first Nollywood movie, October 1, debuted on the American media service in 2015, many Nigerian movies have been streamed on Netflix. In 2018, Netflix continued wooing Nollywood: it acquired Lionheart as its first original movie from Nigeria.
The relevance of the Nigerian film industry cannot be ignored both in the country and in the diaspora. Popularly called Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry is the second largest employer of labor in Nigeria, after agriculture. The presence of Nigerian movies on an international stage, such as Netflix, encourages the dynamic portrayal of Nigeria on a global platform. For a country that has seen its image tarnished by various corruption allegations over the years, this is an incredible avenue to showcase to the world the good heritage and virtues diffused across Nigeria.
In 2009, Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie gave a TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”. In the twenty-minute video, she described the powerful impact of stories and the danger of knowing only one story about a people. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”, she said.
This is not far from the truth about Nigeria. It has been years of propagation of “a single story” about her—one of corruption and dishonesty. Netflix meeting Nollywood, therefore, provides an immense opportunity for telling many stories about Nigeria on an international stage.
Stories bind us. When we own our stories, we create a new country. There is something powerful about portraying the stories, not one story, of a people. For example, The Wedding Party housed on Netflix explores concepts that are specific to the Nigerian society and makes them available to the global audience. The movie shows the uniqueness of Nigerian weddings. It gives wedding ceremonies a different splash, the Nigerian style.
As an African, the biggest joy about these deals has always been the opportunity to tell authentic and untold stories that resonate with every person, regardless of where they’re from in the world while showcasing the African culture, heritage and creativity. The recent collaboration and the earlier unprecedented partnerships with Netflix and other international production companies is a testament to the changing narrative about the investment in African storytelling.
The partnerships with Nollywood prepare the stage for the birth of Nigerian stories: stories that will be told on the international stage; stories that will be nurtured and given the chance to voice the incredible beauty of Nigeria.