Netflix has announced a partnership with celebrated Nigerian producer, Mosunmola Abudu (AKA Mo Abudu), to adapt two Nigerian literary classics for the screen.
The announcement, like Netflix formal foray into Nigeria, was made on Twitter. Netflix said "hello, Nigeria" four months ago. It created a Netflix Naija account whose bio, at this time, reads, "Finally here". But before now, Netflix has been streaming Nigerian movies and series on its platform.
This first-of-its-kind partnership in Africa will see Mo produce a series adaptation of Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives and a film adaptation of Professor Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman.
But there is more. Mo and her production company, EbonyLife Films, will also be producing two Nigerian Netflix-branded films and a series. In all, the partnership is expected to produce five projects: two series and three films. Mo has said the first project will be the adaptation of Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives.
The debut novel of the Nigerian poet and author, Lola Shoneyin, was launched in the United Kingdom in May 2010 and was first performed on stage in 2013. The novel tells the story of the women in a polygamous marriage in modern-day Nigeria and describes the complexity of such relationships.
Death and the King’s Horseman is a play. The play is based on a real incident that happened in Nigeria during British colonial rule. The horseman of a Yoruba King was prevented from committing ritual suicide by the colonial authorities.
Shoneyin and Soyinka are great Nigerian literati. In 1986, Professor Soyinka became the first African to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2017, Shoneyin was named African Literary Person of the year by Brittle Paper. It is also interesting to know that Lola Shoneyin is married to Olaokun Soyinka, the first child of the Nobel Laureate.
My 1st attempt at a novel at 22yo. When I found out I had fewer than the 60k words needed, note how I added ‘la’ to the ‘Novel’. An older writer described this MS as ‘juvenilia’. 😡 I was so angry with myself that I hid it & started writing ‘Harlot’ to prove I could do better. pic.twitter.com/CkWIP7vyop— Lọlá Shónẹ́yìn (@lolashoneyin) April 24, 2020
Mo revealed that she had made a request to the Nigerian Nobel Laureate in 2015 and acquired the rights to produce Death and the King's Horseman as a feature film. She had also requested the same of Shoneyin for her novel in 2017.
"I was thrilled when Mo contacted me about making a show out of my novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. I’d turned down so many offers but this one felt right", Shoneyin said. "It was an opportunity to see my work in the hands of a woman who pursued excellence in Africa the same way that I did. I grew to trust her very quickly, so when she told me about the possibility of working with Netflix, I was overjoyed".
She continued, "Soon, people everywhere will have access to the story of Baba Segi. And that is more than I could have asked for as a writer".
Speaking on why the streaming giant signed the multi-Nigerian-title deal, Ben Amadasun, said, "We believe that more people deserve to see their lives reflected on screen and for that to happen, we need to make sure there's a wide variety of content that caters to our members' diverse tastes".
Amadasun is Netflix Director of Licensing and Co-productions for Africa. He added: "Our members around the world have been enjoying some of the licensed titles from EbonyLife like The Wedding Party, Chief Daddy, Castle & Castle and Fifty. I’m excited to continue our licensing partnership with the addition of Netflix-branded films that will grow the variety of quality Nigerian stories on our service".
Mo has been described as Africa's Oprah Winfrey. From launching Moments with Mo–the first syndicated daily talk show on African regional television–to producing some of the highest-grossing films of all time in Nigerian cinemas, Mo is a thorough and successful media entrepreneur. In 2015, Forbes named Mo as one of Africa's most successful women.
Mo Abudu's production company, EbonyLife Films, has produced and contributed to the making of four of the highest-grossing Nigerian films in cinemas. The table and chart below show the highest-grossing Nigerian films of all time since 2014 in Nigerian cinemas.
"Mo is at the forefront of creative storytelling in African television", Dorothy Ghettuba, Netflix Lead for Original Series in Africa, said. "Her passion for creating high-quality, riveting multi-genre films and TV shows that capture the imagination while showcasing the diversity and richness of Nigerian culture is evident in her impressive body of work".
"We’re thrilled about this first-of-its-kind partnership in Africa that will bring some of Nigeria, and Africa’s most iconic storytelling to screen. We look forward to supporting Mo as she brings all these diverse Nigerian stories to the world", Ghettuba said.
While it does not have a Nigerian office yet, Netflix Naija is a good step for Netflix towards becoming a more international brand. Before its formal foray in Nigeria, three years ago, Nigerian streaming service and producer, iROKOtv, licensed 20 movies to Netflix. In 2018, Netflix also bought full rights to Lionheart, a movie directed by Genevieve Nnaji, as its first Nigerian original film.
This deal with Mo Abudu further shows Netflix commitment to streaming and producing more local African content. And with the recent deal signed with Multichoice, an array of local content would be a great addition to Netflix library.
Cover image courtesy Flickr