In recent years, a number of Nollywood actresses have been stepping into roles behind the camera, initiating projects; initially as writer/producer and now as Director:
-- Omoni Oboli, whose 3rd directorial effort had much controversy about the origin and ownership of its screenplay.
-- Stephanie Linus, who made her directorial debut with “Through the Glass” and won the AMVCA with her socially conscious sophomore outing “Dry”; a departure from the rom-com that was her 1st film, and what she built her acting career on.
-- And now the interweb has made it known that Genevieve Nnaji - a contemporary of Linus, and certified Nollywood royalty, described by Oprah Winfrey as Africa’s Julia Roberts - is making her directorial debut with "LionHeart." This is after her 2015 debut as a producer on "Road to Yesterday."
This surprising development comes just a few weeks after "Ojuju" & "O-Town" helmer, C.J Obasi was announced as director of "LionHeart." It seemed like an odd marriage but was certainly an interesting union. The script credits Obasi, as well as Emil Garuba and Ishaya Bako, who penned "RTY."
Nnaji's last three films were "Tango with Me," "Dr Bello," and a small role in "Half of a Yellow Sun." Audiences were not enamored with the films, and any other actor with less adoring fans would have been put in actor jail; so it’s understandable that she went underground until she could create and control her own roles, as well as the stories being told.
Ms. Nnaji has joined the ranks of powerful female players in director roles. While it’s not an easy route, as mapped out in Tope Oshin’s documentary “Amaka’s Kin” (on the careers of women in Nigeria's film industry), things are significantly better in Nigeria than for female filmmakers in America (especially women of color).
Amongst the top 20 highest grossing films of Nollywood’s Cinema era, No 1 and 5 were helmed by female directors: Kemi Adetiba ("The Wedding Party") and Chineze Anyeane ("Ije"), a previous top spot holder. In addition, the number 1 and number 4 highest grossers are Executive Produced by Mo Abudu, a woman, who also owns the largest private indigenous TV channel in the country.
It would be interesting to see what Nnaji does. Her recent film "RTY" was not a conventional Nollywood film in its art house approach. In an era where there’s an obsession with slapstick comedy, it was something different. So it appears she’s making a departure from the type of movies she made early in her career.
A directorial debut can be a terrifying thing for any serious filmmaker, but most especially for someone so high profile and internationally known as Nnaji. Loyal fans are expectant, and those with an axe to grind wait to gloat in the event there's any trouble. There’s massive pressure to deliver, so maybe all this shuffling behind-the-scenes on "LionHeart" is all in a search for “perfection” and protection of Nnaji's vision from auteurs.
BAFTA winner, Yinka Edwards is her cinematographer, so she has a very experienced hand on board, which will allows her to focus on story and performances.
The jury will be in when the film is eventually released; it might be legendary, making Nnaji a powerful new directorial voice inspiring many of the young girls who admire her.
As the documentary "Amaka’s Kin" highlights, the ratio of male/female directors is imbalanced, and the more women storytellers there are behind the camera, the better; especially those bold enough to leave their comfort zones and experiment with new ideas.
Plot details on "LionHeart" are being kept underwraps.
We wish Genevieve Nnaji the best of luck.