Beloved director Biyi Bandele’s last movie is the adaptation of a revered classic, as well as a sharp and unforgiving look at the hubris that typified colonialism. But in its totality, it’s a jarring fable about the never-ending clash between tradition and modernity, all in a beautifully-realized film.
Cast: Odunlade Adekola, Shaffy Bello, Deyemi Okanlawon, Mark Elderkin, Jenny Stead, Omowunmi Dada, Olawale ‘Brymo’ Olofooro, Jide Kosoko, et al.
Director: Biyi Bandele
Producers: EbonyLife Films and Netflix
Reviewer: Abdulkareem Baba Aminu
‘After his king dies, a horseman must sacrifice himself to serve his ruler in the afterlife but sudden distractions lead to unexpected tragedy’. The plot of director Biyi Bandele’s final film appears to be simple and straightforward, but a closer look reveals a modern masterpiece that is nuanced and layered in many ways which many Nigerian filmmakers have not been able to achieve. And for an anti-colonial tale, that’s saying quite a lot. But then again, there’s more to it. There’s also the not-so-little detail that it’s based on what is considered to be the magnum opus of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the play ‘Death and The King’s Horseman’.
The titular king’s horseman has the unenviably terminal job of ensuring the smooth journey of the late Alaafin to the afterlife, but when the day for his ritual suicide comes, he is having too great a time. A last-minute wedding to a young damsel who’s caught his eye sets events in motion, dragging into the story an incredibly tone-deaf colonial British official and his waifish wife, as well as the entire community, in a tug-of-war between tradition and modernity, leaving the viewer wondering which one is genuinely representational of ‘civilization’. Events cross into each other, pitting character against character, resulting in an unexpectedly tragic end for a major character.
Colourful in all the right ways, and heavy when it needs to be, Bandele’s adaptation of Soyinka’s enduring play is itself in many ways an instant classic, buoyed by a number of factors
Colourful in all the right ways, and heavy when it needs to be, Bandele’s adaptation of Soyinka’s enduring play is itself in many ways an instant classic, buoyed by a number of factors, chief among them the film’s stellar cast. While Odunlade Adekola is as usual charismatic in the title role, the performance with the most gravitas remains that of Deyemi Okanlawon, who plays his son, back from studying in Britain, yet remaining fiercely in alignment with Yoruba traditions and culture. The talented Mr. Okanlawon gives life to Olunde with method acting-like attention to detail, resulting in a character that is truly multi-dimensional.
Okanlawon’s brilliant turn has enough gravitas to carry the whole movie, and his quiet storm countenance is reminiscent of early-day Sidney Poitier, perfect for conveying his disdain for British disrespect. One of the best scenes in the film – and indeed in any Nigerian film this year – remains the deceptively casual conversation he has with the British official’s wife (played to perfection by Jenny Stead), during which he floors her off her high horse with words that are not violent, but a glare that is deadly. If the actor ever needed to stamp his greatness, his performance here does it perfectly.
[Deyemi] Okanlawon’s brilliant turn has enough gravitas to carry the whole movie, and his quiet storm countenance is reminiscent of early-day Sidney Poitier, perfect for conveying his disdain for British disrespect.
That said, the sheer quality of the cast alone is worth the price of admission, as they deliver powerful performances – including the scene-stealing Shaffy Bello as female elder Iyaoloja – and a strikingly memorable one by Jide Kosoko as a comically stoic native law enforcement officer. Mark Elderkin, too, exudes a nonchalance that’s both irreverent and dangerous. Singer Brymo also shines in his feature film debut, as do the other cast members. It is quite easy to deliver greatness, by dint of the source material’s brilliance. Though written in English, it was adapted mostly in Yoruba, bringing a weight that anchors the film as it should be.
The music of ‘Elesin Oba’ is so well-realized that it is practically a character in itself. Featuring Yoruba drums and chants in a way that could make it pass for a musical, the film’s stage origins are clear in the most complimentary way, giving off a tone reminiscent of classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals like ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘The King and I’, et cetera, et cetera, no pun intended. It is also backed up formidably by songs performed by the always-compelling Brymo. The overall tone one gets is like that of old Hollywood classics.
That said, the sheer quality of the cast alone is worth the price of admission, as they deliver powerful performances – including the scene-stealing Shaffy Bello as female elder Iyaoloja
Full of powerful performances, gorgeous production design, vibrancy, and stunning originality that is needed in Nigerian movies today, Bandele’s film does the rare thing of being a period piece so well-put together, so intricately-tailored, that it seems to address the current global zeitgeist of racism, otherness, and more without appearing even remotely preachy or arrogant. Add to that the fact that ‘Death and The King’s Horseman’ is based on real events circa 1947, and you have what is unquestionably the best Nigerian film of 2022. Bravo!
A version of this article was published in the Daily Trust newspaper on Saturday, 17 Dec. 2022, as well as online.
Actors’ strike ends: The SAG-AFTRA deal, what happened, and what’s next
In July, Hollywood’s actors joined writers on picket lines for the first time in 63 years. After nearly four months, the actors’ strike ended after SAG-AFTRA’s leadership approved a tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on Nov. 8.
Members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists who work under the union’s film and TV contract with companies that belong to the AMPTP, a group that represents all the major producers in Hollywood. Members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike on May 2 but reached a tentative deal with the AMPTP on Sept. 24.
While the writers came to a tentative agreement with the studios in late September and ratified a deal in October, SAG-AFTRA remained on strike. SAG-AFTRA resumed talks with the studios but the strike dragged on as the two sides negotiated.
The negotiating committee of the performers’ union approved a tentative deal on Nov. 8. It will still need to be ratified by the members. Additionally, the actors who work under SAG-AFTRA’s interactive contract, including those who provide voice work for video games, are considering a second SAG-AFTRA strike.
How did the actors’ strike happen? SAG-AFTRA, a 160,000-member performers union, voted in favor of a strike authorization by 98% before negotiations began with the studios in June. After they couldn’t reach an agreement by the contract expiration on June 30, they extended talks for two weeks until July 12. Then, a federal mediator was brought in before the extension ended with no new contract.
On July 13, the SAG-AFTRA board voted to approve the strike. Actors joined the picket lines July 14. Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA and former star of “The Nanny,” delivered a fiery speech when the union announced its strike plans.
SAG-AFTRA proposed that a third-party company measure the success of shows and that residual payments be tied to how they perform. AMPTP companies rejected that idea, arguing that many streaming platforms are not yet profitable. Other sticking points were over self-taped auditions, contributions to the union’s health and pension plan and a pay increase.
Artificial intelligence also emerged as a major issue in negotiations.
Some high-profile projects already in production, including “Deadpool 3” with Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman and “Gladiator 2,” starring Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal and Denzel Washington, have shut down because of the strike.
SAG-AFTRA has granted waivers to some independent films and television shows. The projects allowed to continue filming are not affiliated with the major studios and streaming giants that are members of the AMPTP.
Projects with big names attached, including Mel Gibson, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Paul Rudd and Jenna Ortega, are among those allowed to continue filming.
The work stoppage does not apply to performers who work under other contracts, such as actors who work on commercials, soap operas and talk shows. Broadcasters who are in the union also are not affected. Actors (and writers) cannot attend promotional events.
SAG-AFTRA specifies that actors cannot act, sing, dance, perform stunts, pilot on-camera aircraft, puppeteer or do performance capture and motion capture work in front of the camera. Impacted events include San Diego Comic-Con and the London premiere of “Oppenheimer.”
MJ biopic director ‘blown away’ by Jaafar Jackson’s resemblance to late uncle
Director Antoine Fuqua is teasing ‘Michael’, the Michael Jackson biopic he is set to work on and says he’s “blown” away by the “uncanny” resemblance between the lead star and his real-life uncle, the King of Pop.
Jaafar Jackson, who is the son of Michael’s brother Jermaine Jackson, will play the iconic singer in the Lionsgate biopic.
“It’s uncanny how much he’s like Michael,” Fuqua told EW in a recent interview. “Sounds like him, dances like him, sings. It’s really uncanny. Graham King, who is a fantastic producer, found him, and introduced him to me, and I was blown away.”
Although the film is on hold due to the writers and actors strike, Fuqua said the biopic will retell Michael’s story “as we know it” and would tackle some of the controversies the singer was involved in during his lifetime.
“Just to tell the facts as we know it, about the artist, about the man, about the human being. You know, the good, bad, and the ugly,” Fuqua added.
‘Michael’ will be directed by Fuqua with a script from John Logan. Graham King is set as a producer, who was behind the Freddy Mercury Queen story of Bohemian Rhapsody. GK Films will produce alongside the co-executors of Jackson’s estate, John Branca and John McClain.
#QuickReview: Is ‘Justice League: Warworld’ worth a watch?
One thing longtime fans of DC have come to count on is that while the company spent the last ten years floundering around in a pool of confusion, their animated films rarely, if ever, miss. Justice League Warworld continues to lend credence to this argument, though not in a particularly new, unique, or memorable way.
Here’s the premise: The big three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) are scattered across time by some phenomenon they do not understand. They have no memories of who they are or how they got there, but they know they have to consistently ‘keep moving’.
Wonder Woman visits a wild western town in which a distinct DC anti-hero rules with an iron fist. Batman is stuck in a prehistoric world, complete with dinosaurs and warlords and warrior women. And then, the big three reunite at the end for what starts as a ‘mystery-in-a-diner’ noir-esque story that sort of explains what’s been happening but does nothing with that revelation.
The big three reunite at the end for what starts as a ‘mystery-in-a-diner’ noir-esque story that sort of explains what’s been happening but does nothing with that revelation.
But there’s a lot to root for in this film: the voice cast is splendid, with Jensen Ackles playing Batman, Darren Criss as Superman, Stana Katic as Wonder Woman, Troy Baker as Jonah Hex, and so on. Somehow Ackles has avoided the Conroy comparisons (probably because he started voicing Batman before Conroy passed) so far, and in a good way.
The art style stays within the confines of the Tomorrowverse comfortably, and the animation looks great and fluid. The action sequences leave quite a bit to be desired, though, with Batman going through the motions and forgetting what makes him such a much-revered hand-to-hand fighter. The heroes also act out of character a number of times, Batman leaving someone who just freed him to die, and Superman being quite thick-headed and missing several obvious clues.
The heroes also act out of character a number of times, Batman leaving someone who just freed him to die, and Superman being quite thick-headed and missing several obvious clues.
Still, the biggest letdown is the fact that the movie ends, but there’s no resolution. It rather spends the climax setting up a sequel, which may be the just-announced Crisis on Infinite Earths. The movie skimps on the emotional satisfaction that comes with a perfectly-landed climax and instead jerks the audience away on the ‘something-bigger-approaches’ segue. It feels as though the ending was changed just before it left the cutting room. Still, ‘Justice League: Warworld’ is worth a watch.