Black Dynamite Films and TNG Present
Two years ago on this blog, I wondered whether French actor/comedian Thomas Ngijol would be the next Omar Sy – as in a French male actor/comedian of African descent, who finds great success in a film that is a hit in his homeland, and eventually becomes a global phenomenon, forcing Hollywood to take notice, as he transplants his family from France to the bright lights of Los Angeles, to capitalize on that interest/curiosity, while still, of course, enjoying a healthy career back home, in France.
Readers of this blog will remember the 2011/2012 French time travel/slavery comedy ("Case Départ") that Monsieur Ngijol co-wrote and co-starred in (alongside Fabrice Eboué) – a movie that dared to tackle the gravity of slavery via comedy and some sci-fi elements, which was a box office hit in France, and which caused a bit of a stir outside of France, particularly here in the USA, right here on this blog, where many didn’t quite take to the idea of slavery as anything to laugh about.
Keep in mind that this was before "Django Unchained" seemingly kicked off what I fondly came to refer to as “slave movie fever.”
I don’t have any confirmation of whether "Case Départ" ever was officially released in the USA. Although you can buy a region 2 DVD/Blu-ray disc if you’re interested in checking it out. You’ll also find it on YouTube most likely, but it may not be English-subtitled.
Ngijol and Eboué then returned over 2 years later, with another movie that seemingly tackled weighty subject matter with comedy.
Titled "Le Crocodile du Botswanga" ("The Botswanga Crocodile"), it starred Eboué and Ngijol, and followed a young talented French football player, discovered as a teenager by a small-time agent who takes him under his wing. But first, the player has to take his dead mother’s ashes home to her village in Botswanga, as she requested (likely a play on Botswana, the landlocked country located in Southern Africa). At the same time, his ancestry earns him an invitation from the Botswangan president (played by Thomas Ngijol), a football enthusiast who has just taken power of the fictional country after a military coup. Accompanied by his agent, the player sets off to the country of his ancestors for the first time in his life, to pay homage to his mother as well as to be decorated by the President who, despite his humanistic speeches, rapidly turns out to be a megalomaniac, paranoid dictator.
Naturally, hijinx and hilarity ensue, with maybe some life lessons along the way, tackling topical socio-political issues.
The film (budgeted at around $10 million) was released in France on February 12, 2014, and, from what my research tells me, was also a box office hit, making it 2 in-a-row for Ngijol and Eboué. Again, it’s not a film that’s been released in the USA either. But, as I’ve noted previously, these two actor/comedian/writers (Eboué and Ngijol) seem to be carving out a piece of the cinema pie in France, for themselves. They are stars in France, as I understand, so it may be only a matter of time before Hollywood comes calling, and they join their fellow Frenchman, Omar Sy, in Los Angeles. Assuming of course that they are even interested. I shouldn’t be so presumptuous.
Thomas Ngijol at Paris ComicCon 2016
Like Key & Peele here in the USA, the pair split up to work on individual projects; Ngijol specially went on to direct a comedy feature titled "Fastlife," which was released in French theaters in July 2014 - his second feature film released theatrically in the country within the same year.
"Fastlife" centered on a megalomaniac obsessed with the idea of fame at any price, who is forced to choose between growing up and becoming a man, or continue living the Fast life.
Ngijol also starred in the film, as well as directed from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Mohamed Issolah.
It's yet another one of his films that hasn't drawn any American interest, so English-speaking audiences are out of luck.
But maybe... just maybe... Ngijol's next film, announced at the Paris Comic-Con last week as I've learned, will crossover given its central character: an African superhero, in a time when superhero movies and TV series are the rage, and black superheroes are especially in demand.
According to my pals in France, Ngijol was at Paris Comic-Con on October 22 to present his new project titled "Black Snake" which he stars in and also co-directs. He described it as an ambitious and innovative movie which he's co-directing along with his girlfriend, actress Karole Rocher.
"Superman flies over Africa, and he pretends he doesn't see us," the actor said jokingly. "It's fine to go save Gotham City and other mega-cities, but there is also work to do in Yaoundé, Ivory Coast and Zaire. At one point I thought, "Shit, where are the superheroes on the continent?"
As for what exactly "Black Snake" will be about, Ngijol shared: "The audience will be immersed in the extraordinary adventures of Clotaire Sangala, a man who takes on the Black Snake costume to fight crime and injustice in Africa. He's a masked vigilante trained in martial arts who will face an African dictator oppressing his people."
A crime certainly of the moment, as he has lots of real-life material to work with.
Ngijol promises an "impressive" film that will try to compete with the highly anticipated "Black Panther" movie that Ryan Coogler is directing for Disney/Marvel, which is due in theaters in early 2018.
"Black Snake" is backed by French producers BlackDynamite Films - the company behind French hits like "Les Infidèles" starring Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin (the first French actor in history to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for "The Artist"), and more.
Filming is expected to start in early 2017 in South Africa.
There was teaser shared online yesterday, but it's now been pulled unfortunately. It'll likely resurface; so once it does, I'll update this post. It didn't reveal much; after all, it's a teaser. But I can say that, based on what I saw, it'll be a comedy-action movie, maybe more akin to a film like "Deadpool" in tone.
The above teaser poster is all I have to share at the moment.