The YNaija team is pleased to present our definitive list of the most influential Nigerians in film. To gain this list, we worked with film critic and writer Fareeda Abdulkareem who has contributed extensively to the film industry while remaining apart from it to guide us through the process of choosing the people who made our list and helping us understand their continued impact on the industry. Our list is not exhaustive but it is comprehensive and we are confident that it provides a useful tool to understanding the industry and its current trajectory.
It would be impossible to mention the Nigerian film industry without including the woman who established the first African entertainment cable platform. Mo Abudu has spent the last decade subtly changing the face of Africa centered entertainment through Ebony Life TV and Ebony Life Productions, her behemoth pioneer in programming. In addition, Ms Abudu has taken on the hat of super producer, and has been behind many of the most successful and record-breaking films ever to come out of Nigeria, helping discover and cement the careers of Adesua Etomi, Bankole Wellington and reviving the careers of Sola Sobowale and Richard Mofe Damijo on The Wedding Party, and also an executive producer on Fifty, Royal Hibiscus Hotel, Chief Daddy and Oloture.
Mo Abudu has an undeniable capacity for business and eye for knowing what the audience wants. Since its storied beginnings, Mo Abudu has continued to set trends and break box office records in her ascent as one of the continent’s most powerful producers. Movies under her helm hold the firm position of to first second and third highest grossing Nollywood releases in history. She has come a long way from hosting Moments with Mo, her widely beloved television debut.
CJ Fiery Obasi
CJ Obasi has had a remarkable career. As one third of the independent film collective Surreal16, Obasi the Nollywood enfant terrible has built for himself a most interesting filmography, holding the multi-talented roles of writer, editor, director and producer. His skills have drawn comparisons to Tarantino (make sure to check out his inventive dystopian award-winning debut Ojuju), and his work is distinguished by a respect and devotion to the cinematic craft, showing impressive growth over time. Since his debut, he has made more films (O-Town), co-written the Netflix Nigerian hit Lionheart and directed the Visions short, announcing himself firmly as one of the best, consistent and hardest working talents in the industry. In 2018, CJ embarked on the adaptation of acclaimed writer Nnedi Okoroafro’s story Hello Moto. The short film adaptation, Hello Rain made its world premiere at the Oberhausen, one of the world’s oldest short film festivals, It has run quite the impressive gamut from there, collecting acclaim and accolades (including a Vimeo staff pick), and taking tour stops on every continent save for Antartica. Now, CJ is working on his feature, MAMI WATA honing his craft in the European Development labs this month and later in September. While no plot details about the film have been advertised, we are sure of one thing. It will be artful and brilliant.
If you know anything about Nollywood, chances are you’ve heard about Dare Olaitan, the writer and director of one of Ojukokoro, one of the industry’s most unforgettable cinematic debuts in recent memory, garnering acclaim at home and abroad for its writing, plot developments, authenticity and stylish execution. After a foraying into television with the millennial comedy Lagos Big Boy, he returned with his sophomore film Knock Out Blessing, an equally lauded independent satire featuring some of the most interesting and empowered female characters to come out of Nollywood. Even though he is still a relative newcomer by industry standards, Dare has established himself as one of the most radical working professionals out there. His films convey strong humor grounded in relatable and painful realities, spotlighting the kind of strong, affective, nuanced characters that could easily become flat archetypes in the hands of a lesser impresario. We are looking forward to whatever he brings next.
It would not be an understatement to call Niyi Akinmolayan the Nollywood director du jour. The man has unparalleled range, one of the few Nollywood directors to have made comedies, dramas, sci-fi and animated features that were all critically acclaimed and commercially bankable. Boasting the most films on Netflix by a Nigerian director, Niyi has helmed two of the most successful comedies ever in Nollywood. The crowd-pleasing sequel The Wedding Party 2, and the hilarious Chief Daddy. He is not just a box office darling but a critical one too, directing films like Falling, and The Arbitration. But what truly sets Akinmolayan apart is his desire to expand his repertoire. His company, Anthill studios has expanded into animation, creating a number of high profile animated films and series for private clients and public consumption. It is also quickly becoming a forerunner in the voice acting industry. Akinmolayan through Anthill Studios pays it forwardt through organized many training programs for under-represented talent in Nollywood offering guidance and professional development for people passionate about and interested in becoming filmmakers. Niyi is a true gift to the industry.
A longtime collaborator of Niyi Akinmolayan, Naz Onuzo is the extraordinary writer and producer of some of the best known, and best received films to come out of Nigeria. His repertoire is full of hits ranging from the The legal drama, The Arbitration, comedies like New Money (which he also wrote), My Wife and I, and the Wedding Party 1 and 2. But the true measure of Onuzo’s influence is the power he wields through Inkblot Productions, the company he co-founded. Inkblot regularly partners with distribution franchise Filmhouse Nigeria to produce top Nollywood content. Onuzo’s dexterity with numbers (he has a background in banking), his understanding of the craft and his significant production credits on the aforementioned films and then some place him miles above other polyglots in the industry. No wonder any project he involves himself in become such successes.
It would be sacrilegious to discuss the evolution of Nollywood without giving due credit to Kunle Afolayan. Coming into fame early in his career, he built up a dedicated following for his performances that ran the gamut from drama to comedy. And then in 2008, he stunned the world with his directorial debut, Araromire, a film rooted in traditional folklore with a modern interpretation that prove to the world that Nollywood has never lacked the capacity for great feats. The Figurine, his contemporary psychological thriller that folded in spirituality with youth culture really caught our collective attention and proved perhaps there was space in Nollywood for something other than the moralistic village epic. Since then, he has directed beloved films such as Phone Swap, Omugwo and the critically acclaimed October 1st and diversified into a bonafide business man with interests in fashion.
Bolaji Kekere Ekun
Long before it was common to consciously document cultural events, Bolaji Kekere Ekun was carrying his camera around Lagos and doing just that. With his pioneering production compnay 37th state, he set out to prove culture and lifestyle could come together in a tasteful mix. His work has spoken for itself repeatedly, opening doors for him in the film and fashion industries. His repertoire of accomplishments are hard to question or emulate. This is a man who has got the range for everything. From fashion and music documentaries, to directing speculative short films like Mami Wata and more recently, Call Me By My Name, exploring myths which a much needed perspective and nuance often lacking with films that have tackled the subject matter of the supernatural. Call Me By My Name, which made its debut at the Ake festival has been picked to screen across a few countries and continues to collect praise in its wake. Bolaji is also a producer on the viral hit, The Most Toasted Girl in Lagos. Do make sure to familiarize yourself with his work if you haven’t.
Any Nigerian cinephile worth their fandom, knows about Sodas and Popcorn, one of the largest communities catering to the huge gap for content centered around releases, not just within Nollywood but also beyond. Created by Muyiwa Awojide, the site has grown in scale and credibility since its humble beginnings and now exists as a full-fledged entertainment hub providing reviews, its own offline events, behind the scenes coverage and in-depth articles assessing developments in Nollywood, in particular shedding light on the more production and marketing machinery in place. On his own Muyiwa has established a reputation as a stellar digital marketer and manager, leading the team at Brand Eye media and also overseeing Lagos Comic Con, the biggest on the continent. On top of all of these, he manages to co-host the occasional film show and speak on panels at Social Media Week.
One of the longest running jokes in Nollywood is the myth of the triple threat. Over the years, many high profile actors and actresses have tried to diversify their portfolios by trying to launch music or comedy careers, often to disastrous results. Not so for comedian, rapper and awarding winning actor, Falz the bahd guy.
Refusing to rest on his successful and lauded music career, and his huge Instagram fanbase built of his comedic sketches, Falz parlayed a role in the Funke Akindele helmed Jenifa’s Diary to kickstart a career in film and television. In less than a year of entering the industry, Falz climbed the AMVCA stage and upstaged older talent to win the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice award for best actor in a comedy movie/series. Two years later, he repeated the feat. These days, Falz has become a beloved staple of screens across Nigeria, big and small. Most recently, his comedic turn on Chief Daddy as an entitled London raised child trying to kickstart a rap career with no distinguishable talent for music. If that doesn’t speak to his range (seeing how talented the real Falz is), we don’t know what else will.
Kemi Adetiba is many things, a director, a champion for women, a writer, a producer, and an all-round impressive person. Twice now, she has broken misconceptions of the Nigerian film industry and shown the world that it is possible to make a body of art without sacrificing authenticity and critical acclaim for entertainment value. Never one to compromise her values, Adetiba has chosen projects that appeal to her ethos and molded those projects to bear the distinct Adetiba signature. Her films straddle the line all the way to the juicy box office numbers. From the crowd-pleasing romantic comedy The Wedding Party, to the crime noir King Of Boys, Adetiba always commits wholly to telling a compelling story. She has even managed to reestablish some of our favorite veterans, giving them roles to showcase their skills in a new light for a new generation of fans to fawn over. Beyond the scope of cinema, Kemi has also created some of the most iconic Nigerian videos of time past. Remember Wizkid’s Tease Me?
Adesua is the ingénue du jour of Nollywood. After graduating with honours in drama and performance from the university of Wolverhampton and significant stage credits off the West End, Adesua passed on a burgeoning theatre career in the UK , coming home instead to fight for her place in Nollywood. She was quickly rewarded for her bravery, landing a most memorable debut in Knocking on Heaven’s Door. A year later, she walked away with the best actress award at the Africa Magic Viewer’s choice awards for her heart wrenching performance in Falling and Nollywood has not been the same since.
Adesua has been consistently excellent and constantly challenging her craft, whether she is playing an anxious bride in the record-breaking The Wedding Party, taking a musical turn in the visually interesting epic musical Ayamma, playing a belle in Up North or a woman seeking restitution in The Arbitration, Adesua reaffirms with each challenge her enviable range. And the world noticed, as evidenced by her cover stealing turn on the global talents issue of Vogue magazine, yes the American one.
In a surprisingly short time, Zainab has ticked off more career milestones than many in the industry. From her early days co-hosting one of the most popular shows on Ebony Life, The Spot, Balogun built a following to become one of the most vibrant influencers working, alongside a stellar modelling career. Refusing to rest, she made the transition to acting and today is one of the most beloved young actresses in the industry. Since her hilarious and unforgettable debut turn as the permanently flustered wedding planner in The Wedding Party, Zainab’s choice of roles continues to prove her commitment to growth and versatility. In only a few short years she has played the spiritual muse turned tormentor Sylvia in the titular film, she has lived our fairytale dreams in The Royal Hibiscus Hotel (we can never forget that stunning red dress). Even her less visible roles are just as impactful (she played a worried wife in Ojukokoro, providing meat to the backstory of one of the story’s male leads). Currently, Zainab is embodying possibly her most spiritual role till date in God Calling. With a The Future Awards Africa Prize for Acting in her kitty, Zainab is here to make all us stop and watch.
It is often easy to forget how much skill and hard work goes into creating the visuals for a film. Cinematography is often relegated as a niche section of filmmaking, and audiences are often unaware of how much preparation, resources and effort go into making those incredible timeless shots. So when Nollywood has a cinematographer’s cinematographer like Baba Agba, all due respect has to be given. From shooting shorts that have screened all the way from Lagos to Cannes and in between, to working with some of the best young talent in Nollywood, Baba Agba brings and unwavering passion and high level skills to his craft. No surprise having described the creation of images as his first love in an interview. Baba has worked with most, if not all of your favorites. From creating videos for the pop culture magazine Konbini to shooting the globally acclaimed Ojukokoro and parts of the Visions Anthology, Baba is one to respect.
Editi may be a newcomer to Nollywood but that hasn’t stopped him from rising to quickly become one of the best executive producers in this part of the world. Many were already familiar with his digital agency, Anakle, and his investment in the growing local technology sector. Now with his producing debut Up North, he has moved into the ranks of the rare Nollywood producer who is able to create a crowd-pleasing narrative without compromising on the standard of filmmaking. Some of this might be attributed to his humility and passion for learning the ropes as effectively as possible. And of course, he understands the value of having a good team and understanding the power of lifting up the hood and inviting the audience into the process of making your film. Up North is chock full of some of the best cast and crew members working in the industry today and Effiong routinely updated his twitter audience of the lessons he was learning and the challenges he was overcoming as he made his film. And it reflects in the film which has gone on to screen at Stanford University, at the Facebook headquarters an at the Nollywood film festival Paris. Editi is currently developing his second feature which he will direct.
Yinka Edward’s skill has executed some of the most iconic Nollywood releases over the past decade. Notable for his incredible use of lighting, he is one of the most recognized cinematographers within and beyond Nollywood. He is in fact the only BAFTA award winner on this list. Since his days at the National Film Institute in Jos, he has also attended the National Film and Television School in England. Yinka’s repertoire spans work for the BBC, films across the continent (Kenya, Nambia, Nigeria etc) and an impressive list of Nollywood features. Izu Ojukwu’s unprecedented 76 to Kunle Afolayan’s revolutionary Araromire and Independence day and more recently to the Netflix released super hit, Lionheart.
Ishaya’s film credits speak for themselves and have positioned him as one of the most consistent and bankable directors in the industry. A graduate of the prestigious London Film School, Ishaya has collected accolades from home and outside. Whether it was his African Movie Academy Award wins for short and feature length films, or his selection as a global shaper by the World Economic Forum, Bako’s renown continues to grow. Ishaya has made films that have run the spectrum from gritty human interest (Fuelling Poverty) to the luxurious romance The Royal Hibiscus Hotel. Most recently he has received widespread positive reception for his film, 4th Republic exploring the rampant rigging and violence that often plagues Nigeria during the election cycle.
Emil B Garuba
There is a tendency, especially in Nollywood to downplay the pivotal work that screenwriters contribute to good films. Genevieve Nnaji has never scrimped on quality, which is why she has enlisted the help of multipotentate screenwriter Emil Garuba, for her directorial debut Road to Yesterday and her follow up project (that went on to become the first Nollywood film to be snapped up by Netflix before it even premiered) Lion heart. Whether or not you know it, you have been impacted by Garuba’s stellar work as a screenwriter.
He helped shape long standing Nigerian Soap Tinsel, working on the project for several seasons before lending his talents to Ebony Life TV’s Sons of the Caliphate, groundbreaking for its realistic representation of the Nothern Nigerian elite. Garuba also has writing credits on Oxford Garden and Silent Tears He is a man of many talents, doubling, even tripling as a producer and director.
Abba T. Makama
No list of relevant and influential people in Nollywood will be complete without the rebellious wunderkind that is Abba T. Makama. In an industry where a certain comedic sentiment is in dominance, Abba razes the industry with his cutting satire. He has slowly built a repertoire of commentary on the state of Nigeria, starting with his early and just as brilliant short, Party of Ministers to the more accomplished Green White Green. Abba known for his brilliant satire also understands innately what it means to be a young person in the country, in particular one who persistently questions things. To date, Green White Green is still widely talked about and has become a source of influence to even younger upcoming filmmakers. He is also one third of the Surreal16 collective whose Visions debut showed the industry that genre film making is very much alive within Nigerians. Abba is also a visual artist who has been widely exhibited in galleries and on his film sets. Currently, he is hard at work on his follow up feature, The Lost Okoroshi (which will also debut at the Toronto International Film Festival) and yes you guessed right, there will be masquerades involved.
If young Nollywood had a class president, it would be Jemima Osunde. The young actress drifts between television and film with an ease reminiscent of Genevieve in her earlier days. in fact you can spot her playing Genevieve’s assistant in Lionheart. Jemima got her big break in 2018, New Money where she played the comedic lead alongside Falz, Wofai Fada and Kalu Iheagwu. Since then she has become a regular in the critically acclaimed MTV show Shuga and has starred as a lead in the second season of the Ndani TV webseries Rumour Has It. Osunde has the chops for comedy and drama, and somehow she has managed to rise to the top of the best young working actresses and balancing it with a career as an influencer and the demands of studying for a medical degree at the university of Lagos. Jemima, we are in awe.
Ugoma Adegoke has been described as a creative entrepreneur, cultural curator, community builder and creative force. And with her film festival Lights, Camera Africa, she has proven all of these titles and more. A trained economist and former finance professional, she has successfully combined these skills and her passion for the arts into one of the most important vehicles to celebrate filmmakers in a series of screenings, talks, seminars, workshops all to establish the presence of critical discourse around cinema, in addition to celebrating the myriad talents working hard to create films within the context of African experiences. For eight years, Lights Camera Africa continues to establish itself as a haven for the industry distinguished because Ugoma finds ways each year to keep the festival open to all film lovers. Nollywood has come to acknowledge Ugoma as one of its most tireless champions.
Tope Oshin is in a league of her own. With credits like the hilarious New Money and reflective Journey to Self (which pays homage to the iconic Waiting to Exhale), she is proving to be one of the most important voices in Nollywood, in particular for women as the slate for female directors is still very much under represented. Oshin is unafraid to tackle difficult topics, as can be seen with her work with TIERs Nigeria on their 2018 film, ‘We Don Live Here Anymore’ which featured two lead characters that were queer, unprecedented for Nollywood.
But Tope Oshin is just at home directing an indie tearjerker as she is helming a crowd pleaser. Just look to the deft touch she brought to Up North, a beautiful bilsdungroman set in one of the most beautiful locations to have ever been graced by Nollywood. Tope is a gem and the industry is all the more better for her presence.
Since her breakout role as Toyin Tomato in the beloved anthology television series Super Story, Sola Sobowale has been a fixture in the rich history of Nollywood. Her career defining turns in her early years became the definitive standard for an evocative dramatic performance but as old Nollywood went into a temporary decline, Sobowale went underground to regroup and rebrand.
But over the last few years, she has struck lightning twice, first tapping into the nostalgia of the older generation who grew up with her on their screens, and introducing herself to a newer younger audience with the kind of career high performances we rarely see in Nollywood. . In not one but two star making roles, Sobowale proved she still had the chops and could out act any Nollywood actress alive. She came back into the hearts and minds of Nigerians as the loquacious and catty Tinuade Coker in The Wedding Party, and in a darker turn for King of Boys as Alhaja Eniola Salami. Between her and Kemi Adetiba, Nollywood and world waits with baited breath for what other brilliant creations this fertile and storied relationship between these two will foster.
Even though Gabriel Afolayan is a scion of Nollywood’s most prolific film family, he has carved out his own niche as one of Nollywood’s strongest working performers. Gabriel can sing, produce music, act dance and get everyone to fall in love with him. Whether he is occupying pivotal cameos as the shameless man in debt in Ema Edosio’s Kasala, boosting sales for Airtel through his performance in their advertisements, taking on bigger roles in Hoodrush and Okafor’s Law, or delivering performances as his musical alter ego G-Fresh, the man always has an attentive audience.
Few people know this about Ema Edosio, but her career in film was actually inspired by the legendary music video director Clarence Peters. Under his tutelage, Edosio honed her craft making music videos, and growing increasingly concerned at the lack of filmmakers of any genre in the Nigerian film and media industry. Edosio sought to change that, first creating content for the BBC while she shot a series of critically acclaimed web series that centered the gritty and controversial lives on secondary school age Nigerian teenagers on to the small screen.
But eventually, it was time and Ema marshalled the resources she had and the experience she gained and poured it all into her debut indie film. Ema Edosio broke through and stunned the film industry with her ingenious and low budget instant hit, Kasala. The simple but amusing narrative managed to reflect the depressing conditions of Nigerian poverty with a realistic and hilarious tone managed by the deft hand of one of the most talented young directors working today. Although Kasala only scored a two week cinema run in Nigeria, it has screened all over West Africa and gone the global festival circuit picking up recognition and award from Paris to Spain all the way back home. Writing, directing editing and producing the film, and 20 plus awards from across the world, Emma displays a capacity for quality that will serve her well into her predictably long and successful career.
The Nigerian film and television industry is notorious for its gender inequality. There are more women in front the camera than behind it, and even fewer women in the writing room. Fortunately there have been significant strides towards evening the inequality of crews in film productions. So it is necessary to support outstanding crew people working in Nollywood today. And when it comes to gems behind the scenes, no one works harder, is more efficient or shines brighter than Bunmi Ajakaiye. A staunch fan of vintage Nollywood, she has written and directed some of most popular film and television comedies, like My Wife and I, and episodes of Skinny Girl in Transit. She is also an editor and voice over artist, producer and all round jack of all trades in the industry.
Chioma Omeruah, known to you as Chigul is easily the most talented comedienne in Nollywood, bar none. She might even be the most talented person in comedy period. A formally trained linguist, Chigurl is a chameleonic method actor able to shift into whatever the role requires of her, down to physical affects and accents. She speaks seven languages and you can bet she is funny in all of them. But what has really endeared Chigul to her audience is her assortment of alter egos which she unveils through Instagram skits and character studies in the films she has been in; the most prominent of which is the aforementioned Chigul.
Chigul is intent on turning this comedic genius into box office gold. She paired up with Biola Alabi for Banana Island Ghost, her film debut and her first role as a lead and essentially carried the entire film on her back, offering a stellar performance. She has since then lent her talents to Wedding Party 2 and Markate Must Sell. She is set to conquer Nollywood in the great tradition of comics turned movie stars.
For all the titles Nadia Denton could append to her name ( curator, producer, event organizer. author), she is reticent to include filmmaker, for good reason too. Denton has devoted her energies to documenting the history of film in Nigeria, with her focus specifically on the challenges the industry has faced as it evolves to serve its audiences through the years. The result of that research, her book The Nigerian Filmmaker’s Guide to Success: Beyond Nollywood lays out a framework for the future of the industry.
Nadia has been instrumental towards the induction of Nollywood on many prominent global platforms. As a curator, the series, Beyong Nollywood and I Just Dey Observe have screened across Europe, presenting some of the finest and most diverse works of film and documentary shorts, features and animation from home and the diaspora.
Perhaps one of the most enduring on screen faces in Nollywood history, Dakore Egbuson is the quintessential Nollywood star. She was part of the second crop of Nollywood stars to find an audience in the 90’s and helping to launch the era of Nollywood consumed with documenting university life. She was also one of the first actresses to transition into New Nollywood, moving from her early triumphs in Silent Tears to help steer modern favorites like Ebony Life Films Fifty, Jade Osiberu’s critically acclaimed directorial debut Isoken and holiday blockbuster Chief Daddy to critical success.
Dakore’s career is a tried and tested template for anyone wishing to lead the industry. Beyond her talents in film, she is also a spokesperson for global organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty International, a testament to the kind of influence she wields on and off the screen. Dakore is not going anywhere anytime soon, and we don’t want it any other way.
The first many Nigerian film lovers heard of Rahma Sadau was her ban from Kannywood in 2016 for ‘lewd behaviour’ in a music video. For people outside of Northern Nigeria, the ban seemed preposterous, and the sympathy Sadau gained helped her rebrand and make a bid for a crossover into Nollywood, a move that until then had only been successfully attempted by male actors Ali Nuhu and Sani Danja. Sadau was in a unique position though, her genuine Hausa accent and her popularity among Northern audiences made her an interesting asset to anyone looking to make a movie with national appeal.
Rahma’s reband as Nollywood’s own Arewa princess was made complete when she became the first Kannywood actress to hit 1 million followers on Instagram. Roles on ‘Hakkunde’ allowed her parlay that fame into box office success, and her in MTV’s Shuga, and Ebony Life’s hit series, Sons of The Caliphate and most recently Up North proved she could evolve to meet the demands of cross genre roles. Rahama is also as smart as she is talented, graduating with a degree in human resource management from the Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus.
A graduate of the New York Film Academy and University of Texas, Ifeoma Chukwugo aka Fizzy Thatcher, as she goes on the internet is a multiple talent of immense abilities. Bariga Sugar, her debut short depicted its running multiple themes with an uncommon humanity and skill considering its subject matter depicting children raised by sex workers. It has become one of the most revered shorts to ever come out of Nollywood, earning Chukwuogo fans across the country.
The world noticed and acclaim followed. Since then she has been busy, working on a TV series, yet to be released, a documentary on the soot crisis in her hometown of Port Harcourt which is available on Youtube, including yet to the announced collaborations and personal projects.
It would be very difficult for any fan of comedy or Nigerian films not to know of Odunlade. Particularly if they were social media savvy. Odunlade, the beloved darling of cinema and meme classic wove his way into the cultural consciousness of Nigerians and stayed there. As they say, come for the laughs, stay for the incredible performances. Odunalde’s range is truly unparalleled. Whether it is donning drag for comic relief or playing a weathered poor Nigerian, a cheating husband, or a best friend, whatever Odunlade plays is guaranteed an audience.
Producers are the real unsung heroes in film. From sourcing capital to keeping all the parts of a film production running optimally to hiring and managing some of the key talent and dealing with the famous egos of performers, they deserve all the credit they get. And Oge Obasi is one of the best to ever do it in Nollywood. No stranger to the Nigerian film industry, the production partner of CJ Obasi has been involved in making successful Nollywood hits for over one decade. From producing the zero budget hit Ojuju to Kunle Afolayan’s debut Araromire and the award winning scifi adaptation of Nendi Okoroafor’s award winning story, Hello Moto (adapted as Hello Rain), Oge and CJ are an unconquerable duo and the team is working hard now on their follow up feature Mami Wata.
Michael Truth Ogunlade
If you’ve watched any popular Nollywood film over the past few years, chances are you have been blessed with Ogunlade’s work. One of the most dynamic composers and sound engineers and an Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice award winner, Micheal Truth Ogunlade’s career has dipped into every genre. From the speculative horror romance Sylvia to the historical reconstruction The Encounter, comedies like Phone Swap, the romcom hit Isoken, the record setting The Wedding Party and so much more.
Michael’s dexterity, and consistency makes him one of the rare standouts working today. His work has been described in glowing terms as “originally African” having a “complete understanding of the film itself and the story” which has led to creating “unbelievable effects at certain critical moments in a film.” Michael Truth Ogunlade is why your heart swells with joy at a climax and why your nerves are fraught as the film’s protagonist wades into uncertain territory, his work is the emotional core of your favourite films.
Adekunle ‘Nodash’ Adejuyigbe
When you’ve been regarded as one of the 25 most emerging cinematographer’s in the world at one of the most renowned film festivals in the world, you might begin to get a sense of the competency and influence of Nodash. Adekunle who graduated with an electrical engineering degree began his career slightly over a decade ago in the rooms of the Nigerian Television Authority, behind the camera but not as a videographer. These days, he runs the most internationally compliant Nigerian film crew, The Elite Film Team. Micheal has shot popular television series like Gidi Up, and film standouts like Isoken. Adekunle even more recently he has put on his director’s and screenwriter’s hat for his debut feature, The Delivery Boy which won the AFRIFF Globe award for best Nigerian film and is currently screening in theatres nationwide.
A nominee for the Africa Movie Academy Award for best director and winner of the Nollywood award for best director Kenneth Gyang has been the creative life force behind some of the most politically astute, socially conscious, and most sensitive portrayals of the average Nigerian. From directing episodes of the classic BBC series Wetin Dey to one of best received debuts by a Nollywood director ever (if you have not seen Confusion Na Wa, please remedy it). He has also shot documentaries like Blood and Henna, the poignant and sharp portrayal of meningitis in Northern Nigeria through the 1996 Pfizer clinical test in Kano state which took the lives of children and was described by the Nigerian government as an illegal trial of an unregistered drug. Internationally, his work has been honored in South Africa, New York, Germany and the United Kingdom.
For those in the know, Mildred Okwo is more than just a Nollywood commentator mentoring young critics and speaking truth to power, she is also an accomplished filmmaker and indie darling. A trained lawyer, a student of theatre arts, a legendary director and producer and one of the most interesting voices on social media from the Nigerian film industry. Mildred’s filmography includes Thirty Days, The Meeting and Suru L’ere. She has been was honored by Elle magazine as one of the fifty women shaping Africa, and has won Africa Magic Viewer Choice Awards, African Movie Academy Awards and the Publix du Prix at the Nollywood festival in Paris. Mildred is also on the Nigerian Oscars Selection committee. In their capacity which has been approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, they will screen all potential Nigerian contenders hoping to secure a nomination and win for the Academy Award for best foreign movie.
With a filmography boasting over three hundred features, Ali Nuhu the writer, director, producer, actor and enduring sweetheart of cinema from the north is one of the most bankable talents from this part of the world. In January, he celebrated two decades of a career that began and still owes significant honor to Kannywood, the northern subsidiary of Nollywood where he got his acting chops and built the core audience that continues to follow his work till today.
The king of Kannywood also has a certification from the University of Southern California in film production and cinematic arts, and one in film training from the Asian School of Media Studies in New Delhi. In Nollywood he has starred in Last Flight to Abuja, Sitanda, Ojukokoro, and is a frequent collaborator with Kenneth Gyang (Blood and Henna, Confusion Na Wa.)
There is so much that goes into the lifespan of a film from conceiving the idea to pre-production to release and the all-important distribution. As Nollywood continues to increase in prominence and the world pays more attention, women like Biola Alabi will become even more indispensable to the industry. An Africa Media expert who has studied at Harvard and Yale, she was part of the executive team on the classic and beloved children’s show Sesame Street. She returned to Nigeria and took over the creative direction at MNet Africa, and as managing director spearheaded an era that gave us the iconic show Tinsel along with a host of other world class African entertainment content. A Yale World Fellow and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Biola Alabi is a founding partner of Biola Alabi Media, behind the musical Lara and the Beat, and the AMVCA winner Banana Island Ghost, both projects that pushed the boundaries of filmmaking in the country.
Seun Opabisi’s work is defined by an attention to detail and understanding of nuance that is hard to replicate without his innate talent and obsessive skill as a director, an editor and all around post production hero. With creative work that spans photography, visual art and directing, Opabisi proves himself a fluid creator. From music videos, to commercials to films his work as an editor colorist director and conceptual creative work is one of the finest representations of the wave of young Nigerian filmmakers eager to expand the reputation of Nollywood and place it on equal footing with more storied industries. A founder of See Finish the boutique post production facility du jour, and Loup Garou the film collective, check out Seun’s work in films like God Calling and the music videos Zamir L.O.S’s ‘Hate’, Lady Donli’s ‘Cash’ and Serenade and more. If you’re craving something longer, catch his debut short, Rahman, a biting film about determination, poverty childish mischief and family ties.
Tolu Ajayi’s work in advertising has gotten awards, and his films have been praised for their strong visual language, He admits to entering film-making without the ego associated with directors and a bit of an impostor’s syndrome, but his career has done nothing but dispel any inadequacies that he felt. His short film, The Encounter was a critically lauded film that went on to win an Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Award and a special jury recognition at AFRIFF. He also directed episodes of the classic series Tinsel during its season two run. Tolu is also known as one of the few elite filmmakers who have expertise with shooting under water. He also takes it upon himself to mentor as much of the younger generation of filmmakers as he can. Forever humble, he describes his two decades of experience in film as a continuing journey.
Nostalgia is not a fad, not in the case of Nollywood at least which has been seeing a resurgence of beloved acting veterans who were the favorites of many a childhood long ago. Nkem Owoh has many classics under his belt (Akanchawa, Ukwa ) but none compared to his stellar performance as the titular Osuofia in the Osuofia franchise. Owoh was able to distill the quirks unique to Nigerian men into a compelling, self aware character that satirizes patriarchal expectations and our collective Nigerian preoccupation with whiteness. Owoh like many actors of his generation took a hiatus to calibrate beforer returning to Nollywood to And he has risen again, back like he never went back, to cast his comedic chops into the hearts of an audience that missed him and one that is thrilled to make a new acquaintance on Chief Daddy, showing his chops as more than a comedic actor in Genevieve Nnaji’s Lion Heart, available to stream on Netflix.
Kunle Idowu aka Frank Donga
Kunle Idowu shot to into the viral spotlight with his role as Frank Donga on the Ndani TV webseries The Interview where he fails to impress on his job interviews. The role, which he imbues feels as familiar as it is original, all to hilarious effect. Able to spin gold from straw, Idowu has capitalized on the Donga persona, selling it so convincingly many fail to separate the man from the characters.
Like many an astute creative Idowu has pushed the Frank Donga vehicle from the small screen to the bigger one reprising playing versions of the hapless graduate in the critically acclaimed Hakkunde and hosting the show The Boot. A long way from his degree in agricultural science and animal genetics, Frank Donga is as ubiquitous to Nigerian entertainment references as rampant unemployment is to our country.
Richard Mofe Damijo
In 2016, Richard Mofe Damijo received a lifetime achievement award from the Africa Movie Academy Awards committee, a testament to the decades that Nigeria’s original heartthrob has had on all of us. Since his debut in the iconic eighties series, Ripples, he established himself as one of the boldest and most delightful faces on television. But his turn on the Ego Boyo helmed daytime soap opera CheckMate would turn him into an industry darling and an instantly recognizable movie hunk.
Using the success of checkmate as a Skeleton key, Mofe-Damijo moved to Nollywood and began to conquer that industry with roles in back to back hits, some of which have gone unto become bonafide cultural references and Nollywood classics like the romance horror, Diamond Ring, the risqué Passions, Private sins and more. Of course, there is the unforgettable pairing of Mofe-Damijo and Bimbo Akintola in Out of Bounds, which launched her career. In the great tradition of actors entering political office he served as the Delta state commissioner for culture and tourism from 2011-2015. Not resting on his already established legacy he came back to our big screens, part of the renaissance of veteran actors in the record-breaking Wedding Party 1 and 2, Chief Daddy and the comedy 10 days in Sun City.
Funke Akindele is the rare performer whose talent transcends the boundaries of one medium and whose skill collects equal response be it drama or comedy. Since her days on the classic youth series I Need To Know, Funke Akindele has found ways to combine social activism, stellar acting and slapstick comedy to create unforgettable cinema and become one of the most loved faces in Nollywood. Her tear inducing (yes it was that funny) performance in Jenifa was a catalyst that inspired the kind of success that books deserve to be written about. Parlaying it into sequels, a television show (Jenifa’s Diary) and Africa Magic Viewer Choice Awards (even launching the acting career of Falz The Bahd Guy), Funke Akindele has made an empire out of acting and business skills. She is also a big heart with her Jenifa Foundation providing young people with vocational skills. We can only sit back and admire.
Wilfred Okiche represents an important voice in the evolution of the Nigerian film industry. As we grow in prominence, it is ever so important that there exist people invested in film but are not filmmakers. It is the duty of the critic to provide a space for the critical engagement of film, acknowledging, casting praise and challenging filmmakers and audience alike towards better exploring their mutual affection of cinema. A critic is the bridge between fan and filmmaker and Wilfred is one of the few Nigerian cultural commentators occupying that space brilliantly. With commentary that explores music, film and how both genres intersect with popular culture to create powerful moments, Okiche’s film reviews have become the bane of the lazy filmmaker and the delight of his audience. The world agrees too. Wilfred has been invited as a participating critic in Lagos, Rotterdam and Durban. He was most recently invited as the first African critic to attend the prestigious Locarno Festival in Switzerland. His publication credits are spread far from The Guardian UK to Africa Is A Country and more.
Perhaps the most important Nigerian critic working today and one of the most important from Africa, Oris Aigbokevbolo as he has once described himself is an articulate superfan. His work cutting across film, music and literature has drawn him immense recognition (he was the first critic to be selected for the Berlin and Rotterdam film festivals on his first attempt), he has also held residencies in Sylt, won the All Africa Music Award for journalism and written extensively for local and international publications (The Guardian, Chimurenga, Catapult, Brittle Paper) on the subject of cultural criticism. Currently the regional editor for music commentary site Music in Africa, his relentless crusade and devotion to the idea that we can all be better creators and audiences is as enduring as it is impressive.
Remember Games Men Play? It was one of the roles that truly introduced us to the undeniable talent that Uche Jombo is. Never a cookie cutter female lead, Jombo has taken time to define her niche in Nollywood, challenging stereotypes about the future of actresses in Nollywood.
Uche Jombo is an icon, period. In the almost twenty years that she has been working (since her debut in Visa To Hell), Uche has grown in skill and sheer impact. As an actress she is a part of the Nollywood Divas (a group that includes Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and Rita Dominic), renowned for their interpretations of roles as anti-heroes playing stunning yet dangerous women capable or seducing and destroying men. She began diversifying into writing and producing while also acting in some of the movies, talk about a trifecta. As one of the richest working actresses in the industry, Uche Jombo also advocates for women’s rights starring in the short movie New Horizon which addressed domestic violence and producing films like Damaged, also centered on violence to women in domestic situations, under the banner of her company Uche Jombo Studios.
While many people may not know, Joke Silva is a graduate of one of the most prestigious schools of drama in the UK (it boasts alumni like Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), and Terrence Stamp (Star Wars). It would be hard to find one young Nigerian actress today whose craft or career has not been influenced in some form by Joke Silva, either through her performances or her life off screen. Since the late eighties Joke Silva has impressed audiences worldwide in notable roles which have brought both the best and actress and best supporting actress awards at the Africa Movie Academy Awards. Even in theatre, Joke Silva shines, showcasing her range in plays like Mad King of Ijudiya. She is also a member of the order of the federal republic of Nigeria. A former United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, Joke Silva brought awareness to the human trafficking crisis in Nigeria through her I Am Priceless campaign. Talk about a living icon.
Mawuli Gavor’s life has been an interesting evolution. The graduate of business management and finance started as an accountant before transitioning into the presenter actor and man capable of sending fans into a frenzy that we have all come to know and love. Gavor owes some of his fame to the groundbreaking work early Ghallywood exports like Van Vicker, Nadia Buari and Majid Michel did to convince Nigerian producers about the bankability of neighbourly cinema cross overs, but his success today is all his own.
A self-described normal guy, Mawuli’s accomplishments are far from normal. Launching his career from one role, which he flew into Lagos without knowing anyone to audition for, he believed he had bombed for months until a phone call came letting him know when to resume for production. Since then he has been in movies and series alike (A Place Called Happy, Rumor Has It, One More Day etc) He is also a host on Studio 53.
Ade Laoye is the theatre nerd who grew up to live her dreams. From graduating from the prestigious Penn State Theatre Arts program to apprenticing at America’s oldest theatre, and even working with Playbill magazine. She was nominated for a Barrymore award for best ensemble and has toured with an off broadway company. And that is all before hurricane Ade hit by premiering on the revered Ebony Life TV show Dowry. She would expand her repertoire to the stage, bringing to life the role of Jane in Saro, the hit musical. Cameos in a number of high profile Nollywood films would keep her in the news, but what really cemented her status as a versatile actress was her star making turn in Dare Olaitan’s sophomore film, Knock Out Blessing where she has to shed her accent and her often ingenue persona to play Blessing, the anxiety ridden titular character vanquishing patriarchy with her fists.
Onyeka Onwenu is an institution and to list her accomplishments and effects in music film and culture would be to take on an immense task. In one lifetime (although it has seemed like many), Onyeka Onwenu has written and performed songs tackling health, joy, tolerance and love. As a broadcaster she has produced and narrated one of the most definitive films about the state of corruption in the country. As an actress, she is an Africa Movie Academy Award winner for best actress. Beyond her career in entertainment, she is the director of the national center for women development and once served as the chairperson of the Imo state council for arts and culture. She has been in globally acclaimed films like Half of a Yellow sun and Lionheart and continues to represent the very best in activism and culture that this country has to offer.
While the Nigerian pageant circle has proven itself a funnel for introducing attractive men and women into Nollywood, it is quite rare that we get a former pageant regular who transcends the questioning that comes with that background and truly distinguishes themselves as an actor. Alex Ekubo is that rare actor.
After Attracting attention as the first runner up in the Mr Nigeria competition, Alex segued into television, working on a couple of bit roles before joining the Africa Magic family on their day time soap opera Tinsel. The show has proven an effective training ground for amateur actors looking to quickly build hours in front the camera and before long, Edet the Bartender, Ekubo’s character was a series regular. Ekubo would use that role to acquire himself other roles in AY’s Crib and in commercial hits like Hire A Man, Gbomo Gbomo Express, A Man For The Weekend, Diary of a Lagos Girl and many others.
However, none of this was as valuable towards advancing his career as his decision to join the family at Mary Remmy Njoku’s ROK Studios. Then a new studio, Ekubo took a chance, dedicating his time to the line up of projects Njoku had planned and prepared to lay out. Their collaborations over the years would eventually lead to a Future Awards Africa Prize for Acting nomination and Ekubo well on his way to the A-List.
To those in the knoow, Shaffy Bello has always been the prototype for the eternally beautiful femme fatale, a role she embodied long before Nollywood as we know it today even existed. She was the voice behind one of the most popular Nigerian songs ever, ‘Love Me Jeje’ by Seyi Sodiumu. The actress who grew up in Nigeria, migrated to the United States and was silent on the Nollywood front for a while, but she returned in spectacular form starring in English and Yoruba spoken movies and creating a fanbase across all ages and preference. Scoring a leading role in the Africa Magic soap opera Battleground helped cement her status as a method actor willing to give whatever it takes to immerse the audience in the character’s story.
She has comedic and dramatic chops and manages to look unforgettable while delivering back to back stellar performances, most recently a show saving performance in Chief Daddy.
Omotola Jalade-Ekehinde is the original Nollywood sweetheart, and has had one of the longest lasting and most impressive careers in the history of Nollywood. An actress, a business woman, a philanthropist, role model and enduring icon of sexiness, Omosexy is proof that you can do it all, and more. Since her debut in 1995’s Venom of Justice, she has appeared in hundreds of movies which have earned her critical acclaim and raked in box office magnificence. Omotola also briefly launched a music career, producing the albums Gba and Me Myself and Eyes, as was customary during the infamous Nollywood ban. She was also the first Nigerian to step into the reality TV realm with the beloved Omotola: The Real Me. In recent years she had been a prominent face of New Nollywood in prestige films like Ije, and The Last Flight to Abuja, even making a newsworthy cameo in the hit VH1 series, Hit The Floor on the arms of another African megastar Akon (who could forget that dress). Omotola is taking her career into her own hands at just forty-one, bringing her mega-wattage, Time 100 honoured brand to projects like Alter-Ego. We are convinced Omotola will continue to grace our hearts, screens and ears for a very long time.
Moses Babatope & Kene Okwuosa
While Moses Babatope and Kene Okwuosa are not on-camera personalities, the duo are one of the biggest instruments behind the scenes instrumental to the global expansion of the Nigerian film industry. With almost two decades of experience in film production, distribution and cinema operations, Moses is the Managing director of Film one Distribution and Production, and the executive manager of Filmhouse Cinemas. For those who don’t already know (and that would be hard pressed not to), Filmhouse operates the largest cineplex chain in West Africa and has had a firm hand in producing and distributing some of the biggest hits in Nollywood history. They also happen to be the fastest growing media and entertainment group this side of the globe.
Babatope and Okwuosa essentially control Nollywood, and can make or break any big project and it is not power that they wield lightly.
A former theatre arts student, AY Makun is one of Africa’s biggest comedic exports and one of the comedians to break into producing and owning his own viral, commercially successful content. His repertoire from hit shows like AY’s Crib, to his smash hit trilogy 30 Days in Atlanta, A Trip to Jamaica and Ten Days in Sun City; each part of the content empire Makun is intent on building for himself. His films have become part of the very exclusive beloved comedic films in recent years. AY has made a career out of appealing to local, diaspora and foreign audiences with his hilarious skits and acting abilities and is unashamed to cross the pond to find a star to anchor his movie and introduce it to a black diaspora audience. Like a true multi-hyphenate he is also a business man and was made a United Nations Peace Ambassador. Afterall, what else unites the world more than laughter.
Daniel Oriahi is the executive, producer writer, director and media consultant who for almost ten years has been gracing the industry with his insight and capacity. Daniel’s work has ranged from kitschy Nollywood fare (Women are Scum, yes you read the title right), to the edge of your seat thriller cum romance, Sylvia all the way to the gritty comedy, Taxi Driver: Oko Ashawo, a film that has screened hallowed halls around the globe. Daniel’s inspiration comes first and always from the country itself, in particular the unexpected and often abandoned narratives of the common man. We are looking forward to seeing what the next decade of his evolution will bring.
Mary Remmy Njoku
Mary Remmy Njoku is the undisputed queen of Nollywood content and distribution, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. As the CEO of ROK studios, and partner to Jason Njoku of Iroko TV, Mary has amassed production, and directing credits on television series, and films that have found their way into an unprecedented number of screens in Nigeria and abroad today. With credits like Husbands of Lagos, Thy Will Be Done, Northern Mercy, Single Ladies and more, Mary Remy Njoku is leading a charge of accessible cost-efficient entertainment centered content all made in Nigeria.
But what really sets Mary Remmy apart from every other Nollywood big wig is that she actually delivers. Not just on content but also on bankability. In what is arguably the biggest deal in the history of Nollywood, Mary Remmy sold her company Rok Studios to French media giant Canal +, in a deal that increased her reach into Europe, got her massively paid and still allowed her retain a seat on the Board. Even more impressive, when you consider ROK is only three years old. Again, the undisputed queen of Nollywood. We hail.
In early 2019, Kate Henshaw was in the global news circuit. What for you ask? Her recent apppointment as a judge on the CBS reality talent show, The World’s Best. This new role finally puts Henshaw in front a global audience and cements her positions as one of Nollywood’s most enduring bankable assets.
Asides her new international obligations, Henshaw manages to run businesses, and find time to collect acting accolades while starring in iconic roles, like she has been doing since the nineties (her filmography boasts figures in the hundreds). She is also a full part of the vintage renaissance of actors returning for their second but not final acts. She has stood out in films like New Money and Chief Daddy reaffirming our fandom, securing new ones and inspiring an upcoming generation of performers. Did we mention she also has a degree in Medical Microbiology? This woman does it all.
With hundreds of film credits under her belt, Rita Dominic has proven herself the quintessential Nollywood professional. Willing to give her talents to any project that can capture her imagination and bring a level of excellence to every project she accepts, Dominic is a literal guarantee of bankability.
She caught the performance bug since childhood, appearing in school plays and children television shows, as way to hone her innate talent. Making the move to professional practice, she studied for a degree in theatre and performing arts at the university of Port Harcourt. Fast forward twenty years later, Rita is an Africa Movie Academy Awards best actress winner (twice, with even more nominations), she is a producer, an advocate and an eternal fashion role model and one of the most beautiful actresses in the industry. Rita, we are looking forward to the next phase of your career and fashion slay.
Jadesola Osibieru is one of the sharpest voices working in Nollywood today. And to think we have been blessed with a director this stellar because a new generation bank decided to take a chance on new media. A representation of the cosmopolitan Nigerian, Jade Osiberu introduced her unique perspective on the lives of upper middle class Nigerian youth by writing, directing and producing the break out series, Gidi Up that chronicled the lives of young Nigerians like no other had done in recent memory, becoming one of the flagship shows for Ndani TV with a loyal fanbase that still asks for a third season till today.
Her film debut Isoken, not only shone Dakore Egbuson in a bold new light, but touched on topical issues of Nigerian spinsters with wit, grace and realism. Isoken premiered in London and then went on to screen around Europe. At home Jadesola took the Africa Magic Academy Award for Best Director and the film was and continues to be a resounding hit. Under her Tribe 85 production company, Jadesola continues to create a slate of quality content for businesses and consumers alike.
Genevieve’s name is as ubiquitous as the industry she boldly came into and claimed as hers. The undisputed queen of Nollywood, the proclaimed Julia Roberts of Africa who has graced Oprah’s couch and multiple prestigious offerings as the de facto representative of an entire country and continent filled with remarkable talent. A member of the Order of the Federal Republic, Genevieve was also the first to win the Africa Movie Academy award for best actress. Since she burst out in the late eighties’ series, Ripples, she has kept us all in the grip of her excellence. Her filmography is a series of back to back classics like Games Women Play, Keeping Faith, Passions, The Mirror Boy.
After a short hiatus to gain technical knowledge and reorient her career, Genevieve stepped behind the camera to gain greater control over the stories she told. She produced Road to Yesterday and gave her talents to the Biyi Bandele adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. A vocal feminist, she made her directorial debut on Netflix with Lionheart to rave receptions.
Lala Akindoju is a literal trailblazer, just ask the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice awards where she picked up a win in the trailblazer category. Alongside a Future award for actor of the year and most promising actor at the Africa Movie Academy awards, Lala has more than proven herself as a veteran in the field.
To gain more control of the film creation process, Lala started her own production company, Make It Happen productions through which she is working on a couple of personal projects. Her relentless energy and unflinching commitment to true performances make her a revelation every time she hits the screen. Off screen, she is just as impactful, wearing producing roles and walking the talk in terms of creating opportunities for more women and young filmmakers in the Nigerian film industry through her partnership with the Accelerate Filmmakers project.
Didid Cheeka is a self-described reality shatterer whose greatest pursuit is truth. One of the entertainment industry’s most influential Nigerian critics, he has also directed documentaries and dramas that have screened across Africa and Europe. Known for his incredible fearlessness Didi Cheeka’s work has covered subjects ranging from suicide and meaninglessness in Wole Soyinka’s Death and The Horseman to speaking on panels about the intersection of cinema with democracy. Didi is one of the strongest authorities on cinema and the industry is a smarter place for it.
Bose Oshin’s list of accomplishments reads like the quintessential Nollywood career for any young woman aspiring to the industry. She is a writer and producer whose roster of releases include the best reviewed and profit-making films in and outside of Nigeria. From the Spike Lee approved Nigerian Prince, Kunle Afolayan’s highly praised debut and sophomore projects, to crowd pleasing romance Isoken, Oshin’s soft touch has helped elevate these movies into canon like status. Bose has worked with the best talent Nollywood has to offer. We should all take notes.
Chuka Ejorh is one of the most influential talents in Nollywood whose name you probably skip in the end credits if you aren’t a cinephile. For over fifteen years he has developed and created a strong brand as an editor and director across all forms of entertainment in Nigeria. Although he is mostly seen working for reality shows (Big Brother, Africa’s Next Top Model, The Apprentice, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader), he has built up solid credits in TV comedies and dramas like The Johnsons and documentaries like Bold and Beautiful.
Bode Asiyanbi may be known to a wider audience as one of the writers of the hit Chief Daddy, but he has been making impact and receiving accolades for the better part of a decade. With a masters of fine arts in creative writing from Lancaster University in the UK, he has also been the playwright in residence at the prestigious Camargo foundation and has twice won the BBC African performance play writing prize and the British Council LTF play writing prize(also twice). He most recently became the 2018 winner of the Georgi Markov prize, given to the play with the most outstanding potential, in the BCC and British Council sponsored International playwright competition.
BB Sasore has directed two incredibly well-made films in the past two years, and they could not be more different in tone and subject. From the comedy hit Banana Island Ghost to the spiritual drama God Calling, the writer and director is one of the clearest and smartest working voices behind the camera in the Nigerian film industry today. Detailing the production trajectory of God Calling where he describes four intense months of pre-production and an even more intense post production (evidenced by the stellar VFX skills used), BB brings a technical and narrative specialty to his craft.
Temidayo Abudu has reportedly big shoes to fill as the progeny of the great Mo Abudu, but this has not stopped her from forging her own path in the industry. From co-producing all the major films from Ebony life, to being the show runner behind the hard to place pseudo reality television show, On The Real, Temi has tried to mine the millennial experience to bring depth and familiar nuance to the Ebony Life repertoire of projects. Every millennial can relate to someone on that show, be it the naïve Efosa, the feisty Faridah, dramatic Auta, or Amaka the ultimate girl next door. Everyone is watching what Temi will do next.
Ego Boyo may have just turned fifty, but her performances are as illuminating and technically proficient as when she first debuted on Nigerian screens in the series, Checkmate. Her pairing with Richard Mofe Damijo in the late great Amaka Igwe’s film, Violated is one firmly in the canons of classic Nollywood. Ego took a seeming break as the aughts’ appeared focusing on philanthropy as the 60th president of the International Women’s Society, the not for profit, non-political organization reaching its seventy second year. But she never truly left Nollywood, and mentored young actresses and dabbled into producing with Akin Omotoso’s experimental film A Hotel Called Memory. She returned to our small screens collaborating with RMD for the series Mr X Family.
Peace Anyiam Osigwe
Peace Anyiam Osigwe’s offscreen contributions to the Nigerian film industry have been the kind that will resonate with everybody on the spectrum of film making, be it fans, performers, distributors and crew. As the founder of the Africa Film Academy and the African movie Academy Awards she is the purveyor of one of the most prestigious awards concerning cinema from Nigeria and the larger continent. One camera, she is also just as accomplished with directing, hosting and writing credits from television shows centering on advocacy for women to directing videos for the iconic due P-Square. Peace is not only the proverbial jack of all trades; she is master of all.
Chioma Ude is one of the most influential women presenting and advocating the greatness and diversity of film making in the Nigerian film industry today. As the founder of AFRIFF, she established one of the most powerful incubators and ecosystems for the film industry within local and international confines. Now approaching its ninth year, the festival has served as a training ground and platform for the development and monetization of content from Africa and the diaspora. The festival has been responsible for introducing and helping to launch some of the most acclaimed films and filmmakers. From Wanuri Kahiu’s short film Pumzi, Abba Makama’s Green White Green, Nodash Akingugbe’s Delivery Boy to Ema Edosio’s Kasala all first found acceptance and an audience at Ude’s festival.
For over one decade, Shuaibu Hussein is one of the most important writers and cinephiles in Nollywood. An author and authority on Nollywood and a top editor at one of Nigeria’s most respected publications, The Guardian, his writing has provided consistent, insightful commentary on Nollywood related topics. An integral part of the Africa Magic Academy Awards where he has been serving as head of the jury board since 2015, he is one of the most influential figures dictating the growth and development of Nigerian cinema
Two words have been used to describe Femi Odugbemi, The Man. And with his extensive catalogue that includes work as screenwriter, director, photographer and almighty producer, we have to agree and give all the credit. Femi has been the mind and grit behind the classic MNET series Tinsel, which we have all grown to love and has come to launch many careers and revive others. Femi has also made acclaimed documentaries covering a range of subjects from ORIKI to And the Chain Was Not. On the big screen he has given the world Gidi Blues and Makoko. Femi, The Man, Nollywood remains in awe.
Jahman Anikulapo has famously been called the best in a dying breed of journalists in Nigeria. However, he is so much more. As a former editor at the prestigious Guardian Nigeria, Anikulapo helped shape the news around Nollywood, highlighting the work of lesser known directors and challenging the industry as a whole to better standards. But his long-lasting relationship with film traces all the way back to his time as a theatre arts student at the university. On graduation in his own words he “excelled as an actor” staring in productions for iconic directors like Tade Ogidan before deciding along with some of his contemporaries to make a shift towards “writing about themselves”. Since then he has built a legion of acolytes and fans, even going on to launch and support the careers of younger prestigious critics. These days he runs the biggest documentary festival in the country, I-Rep.
How does a person go from studying physics to winning an Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Winner for best sound editor. Kulanen Ikyo has a resume that would inspire admiration and envy from any corner. As a music producer, sound designer, film and music composer, his work has graced many beloved Nollywood hits from October 1 and The CEO (with Kunle Afolayan) to the Netflix monster hit, Lionheart.
Olufemi D Ogunsanwo
As collaborative as the film process is, it is often common for certain partnerships to grow and develop over the course of many films. In the case of super producer Femi, he has found a partner in young director Dare Olaitan. Together they have made two critically acclaimed films with some of the most interesting writing and plot developments to come from the industry. But Olufemi has range. On television, he produced the beloved epic series, Ajoche.
Joy Efe Odiete
When Samuel L Jackson described film being as important as having as many asses on cinema seats as possible, he must have understood the power of distribution. Many brilliant films never get the recognition they deserve because they either were not marketed well, or just didn’t get the chance to grace the right screens. Joy Efe Odiete is the award-winning distributor who has made a career out of getting the films fans want to see to them. As the CEO of Blue Pictures film distribution, her company works with the biggest commercial and independent studios and has brought hits like Black Panther Iron Man, Star Wars and other films to local screens. With over 5000 titles under her belt, we have no choice but to bow.
Chioma’s career trajectory has been an interesting one. From studying economics and management at University of Lagos and Imperial College London, she choose to abandon a career in finance to segue into film making, taking courses at the prestigious London film academy and MET film school. She spent a year as Nollywood advisor on film distribution for Genesis Deluxe Cinemas. Currently, she is the head of programs for West Africa’s largest film festival, AFRIFF while also making waves as a filmmaker with series like Goddamit its Monday, and 8 bars and a Clef. In the process, she has picked up a tidy list of nominations like the best first feature director at the African Movie Academy Awards.
Mahmood Ali Balogun
Mahmood Ali Balogun was born a year before Nigeria’s independence so it is safe to assume, he has been around for the entire lifespan of Nollywood and influenced it through all its iterations. In that time, he studied dramatic arts at the university, and worked as an actor director, producer, consultant and man of influence. His documentaries have ranged from cultural colours in Japan to Nigerian traditional marriages, to directing the contemporary romance, Tango With Me. He serves on the boards of The Advisory Council for the Nigerian Film Industry, was the founding president of the National Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners and a panelist at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of his work.
Tunji Akinsehinwa’s body of work spans fifteen years across continents, and specialties all distingiuished by a consistent mark of excellence. Working primarily between the UK and Nigeria, he is a cinematographer, lighting cameraman and filmmaker of documentaries, shorts, corporates and promos. His clients have ranged from MTV, BBC, Bloom berg Africa, EbonyLife and more. He was the brain behind the distinctive palette of CJ Obasi’s first two features, Ojuju and O-Town and has worked on Vanessa Nzediegwu’s 2017 thriller What Lies Within. Akinsehinwa shares his knowledge as a lecturer in the UK and in Nigeria, training the next generation of film polymaths.
Judith Audu is a seasoned Nollywood professional. She acts, she models, she produces, and she blogs about the industry. A graduate of French and diplomacy, she pivoted towards the dramatic arts starting out with plays at the University of Lagos before debuting on screen with the television series, One Love. Since then she has starred in series like Tinsel, Rush, Funtime, Queens Drive and more. She has produced a documentary on domestic violence, Not Right, produced a feature, Just Not Married which was chosen as one of 8 films chosen to represent the best of Nollywood at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. She also hosts the top radio show Meet The Actor With Judith Audu.
Obijie Oru has worked in fashion since she graduated the university of Benin. After launching her costume designer credits with Kunle Afolayan’s Figurine (Araromie), she picked up the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Award shortly after for her work in October 1. Since then she has received three more nominations in succession. Obijie is a bonafide fashion veteran with over a decade of experience in the industry, establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with. Some of her other credits include Maltina Dance All and the movie King Invincible. Up next, she is eager to begin international collaborations that still have a strong African element to them.
Uche Aguh’s short but truly multi-dimensional career in cinema has been anything but boring. A first generation immigrant in America to study medicine, Aguh began to dabble in film as a way to distract himself from increasing friction with his hosts in America. He burst into the limelight with his controversial short film Sambisa that sought to portray the lives of the 200 plus girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014, lauded for its daring and panned for its insensitivity and lack of attention to detail.
Since then, Aguh’s ambition has only grown, with gutsy pitches to direct the critically acclaimed Chimamanda Adichie novel Americanah under his production company 55 Media, Azuike, his lush short film that deified Nigerian women and now The House Invictus, his debut full length feature that has gained the attention of Hollywood big wigs and premiered at Martha’s Vineyard. Aguh has big dreams and it will be interesting to see how he goes about fulfilling them.
Even if your interest in Nollywood is at best superficial, it is near impossible to interact with the industry without being somehow influenced by Zulumoke Oyibo’s work. As a cofounder of Inkblot productions, her credits are as varied as they are impressive. She has overseen the biggest scale Nigerian film, Up North so well received it debuted at the Facebook Global offices, she has produced record breaking comedies like The Wedding Party and critically acclaimed independent circuit darlings like The Arbitration. A certified lawyer, she has worked in industries like fashion, petroleum, real estate, and e-commerce before committing exclusively to Nollywood via content production and now film. It has been quite the journey.
Newton Aduaka’s biography speaks for itself. A graduate of the London International film school, his debut feature film Rage, became the first wholly independently financed film by a black filmmaker in the history of British cinema. His follow up feature, Ezra is regarded among critics as the best film made by a Nigerian filmmaker. The film collected the grand Jury prize all the way from Durban, South Africa to Amiens, Blafon and FESPACO, even screening at Sundance and Cannes. That’s not all, he is a TED speaker and his array of shorts have received equal acclaim globally. For the past three years he has been the artistic director of AFRIFF.
Tunde Babalola is one of the most powerful wielders of words in the Nigerian film industry. An Africa Movie Academy Award winner, he has written screenplays for every big, acclaimed and successful name associated with Nollywood. From Kunle Afolayan’s October 1 and The CEO, to Mildred Okwo’s The Meeting, to Obi Emelonye’s Last Flight To Abuja, he has been a consistent talent for over one decade and it seems for the next few decades too.
Belinda Yangah wears many hats in the real of Nigerian films. She is an actress; she is also a seasoned content producer creating shows for network giants like Africa Magic and Iroko TV. An alumnus of the prestigious Talents Durban program, she is a firm part of the young generation shaping up to expand and diversify the narratives in our film industry.
Adenika Adebayo is everyone’s favorite television presenter, Nollywood superfan and film reviewer. Starting her career as a short form producer for YNaija, Adebayo began to explore her love for film and webseries through writing before settling on Youtube as her preferred medium. Whether you’ve encountered her writing or popular YouTube videos or the show she hosts, The Screening Room, she has built up an incredible cache of knowledge and expertise around all things film. One doesn’t have to be a filmmaker to be part of the film industry and Adenike is very good at showing us why we love cinema so much.
With over three million subscribers on Afrinolly, Chike Maduegbuna the CEO has described the hugely successful mobile application as basically compacting the entire spectrum of African entertainment into a medium that can fit in your your pocket. A distinguished business man with a passion for Nollywood he is also known for his persistent activism for upcoming filmmakers. Under the Afrinolly brand, he has initiated masterclasses for short films and is known for collaborations with NGO’s like Ford Foundation in creating development projects with a film focus.
Gloria ‘Maraji’ Oloruntobi
Gloria Oloruntobi must seem an interesting choice for a list of the most influential people in film, but that is only if you are not already acquainted with the stellar body of work she has created in the three years since she went professional.
Starting her career in content creation on the crowdsharing app Musica.lly, Maraji’s hyper-emotive dance videos soon expanded to include a very interesting career in comedy that draws inspiration from millennial nostalgia and harnesses its to appeal to and resonate with a new generation of consumers. But what really sets Maraji apart is her stellar writing, scripting and production. Maraji is a one-man film studio, churning out skits where she plays multiple characters seamlessly and creates complex storylines that run an extremely limiting two minutes. But somehow Maraji makes it all work and Nollywood waits with bated breath for when she decides to bring her talents across the divide.
Otobong Ekpeyong’s credentials come heavy. The Calabar native has produced digital content for faith-based organizations for over one decade and won the AFRIFF talent development scholarship in 2014. In 2018, he participated in the AFRIFF and Ford Foundation two-month training in social justice filmmaking at the Montana State University. Some of his credits include feature shorts and features like Power to the People, Mo, Eno’s Demons, If Only and then some.
Vanessa Kanu is such a great writer, a director once said of her work that he did not need to make any edits or do any rewrites. This film was Sylvia, the incredible horror romance at once recalling Fatal Attraction and Ruby Sparks. The fact that this is her first major screenplay is also not to be overlooked. With such an incredible major debut, Nollywood is bound to keep her busy with offers for a long time.
An AMVCA nominee and winner of two best of Nollywood awards, Biodun Stephen is a bonafide major player in Nollywood. With formal training at Obafemi Awolowo University and The London Film School, she brings expertise to her passion and talent. Her credits range from director to producer in acclaimed features like Tiwa’s Baggage, Ehi’s Bitter’s, Ovi’s Voice and Sobi’s Mystic. As she once said in an interview, “there is no better time to be in Nollywood than now”, and with the way her career is going, we agree.
Since her debut in 2003, Toyin Abraham (nee Aimakhu) has done great things in the film industry. She is also one of the few star actresses who commands English and Yoruba speaking Nollywood with equal flair. Not content to merely be a star in other filmmaker’s vehicles, Abraham transitioned into producing in 2017, taking a leaf from Funke Akindele’s book and investing in her own comedy that builds on one of her most succesful tropes. The project, Alakada and its sequel Alakada reloaded became massive commercial successes, and gave Abraham the bankability to truly pursue her quest to conquer the film industry on the continent. She has reached even bigger peaks and is constantly in demand for her hilarious portrayal as the lovable girl from the village.
Yolanda Okereke defines herself as a brand consultant and celebrity stylist. She has the awards and film credits to back it up. Yolanda’s impeccable eye and sense of fashion led her to be one of the most in demand costume directors for Nollywood. She has dressed and constumed entire casts for comedies like New Money to bigger budget blockbusters like King of Boys, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, and the Netflix hit Chief Daddy.
Okereke continues to lend her talents to celebrities offscreen, helping craft scene stealing red carpet looks and curating and communicating distinct brands for actors and directors through dress.
Chris Eneng Eneaji
Chris Eneng Eneaji can be described as the Nollywood director du jour. With genre defining films like like the whodunit thriller Murder at Prime Suites, The Conductor, Secret Room and Prophet Nebu all bearing his signature directorial style, (among others), he is known for his saying content is king as much as his collaboration with powerful women like Nkiru Sylvanus and Omoni Oboli. We love a feminist filmmaker.
Yemi is an editor, director and producer whose body of work has spans an incredible range of genres and subjects. Jolaoso is best known for his editing, his deft hand and his eye for staging dramatic moments in post production have proven a valuable tool to many a director, swooping in saving unsalveagable footage.
His work on globally acclaimed films like Taxi Driver: Oko Ashewo and Phone Swap have positioned him as one of the best editors working in Nollywood. He also works as video editor for the juggernaut cable station, Ebony Life, helping the media company develop its now signature aesthetic.
Walter ‘Waltbanger’ Taylaur
Walter Taylaur is best known for how smoothly he transitioned into more challenging territory, especially the bureaucratic maze that is Nollywood. First introduced to the industry with his 2013 independent film Get Lucky (made as a US/UK partnership with Gateway Films and Atlas Independent) and eventually distributed by Universal Studios. Taylaur started Waltbanger 101 Productions as a vehicle to allow him greater influence on the projects he directed as well as commercial success. As the managing director of his production company, Taylor has lent his talents to the BBC, producing documentaries for them as well as major film projects such as Gbomo Gbomo Express and Catch.er.
He also partnered with Ebony Life TV to create television series Married to the Game. Taylaur has worked extensively in reality television, working on the Apprentice Africa and Big Brother Africa and the Amstel Malta Box Office. He was also an accomplished music video producer before his segue into film.
Not many might understand Broda Shaggi’s mystique but it is hard to ignore the star power he brings to the projects he works on. One of the new wave of actors who started their careers as comedians/influencers on Instagram and made the jump to the big and small screens, Broda Shaggi’s commitment to his stage persona and his willingness to reach to unconventional depths in service of the character has made him a fan favourite on several Nollywood films as well as Funke Akindele’s new television series Ayetoro Town.
Ifeanyi ‘Ifan’ Michaels
An Auteur if you ever saw one, Ifeanyi ‘Ifan’ Michaels has done the ground work to make immersive, boundary pushing period dramas that incorporate several genres and take an incredible amount of time to make for Nollywood standards. Entering the film industry as a stylist to the stars, Ifan slowly built a reputation for himself as a serious filmmaker, spending 3 years to work on his debut film, Lotanna, set in the 1970’s and elevating emerging actor Chris Okagbue into a leading man.
The film went on to earn four well deserved AMVCA nominations for best art director, best movie . West Africa, best makeup artist and best art director; winning one of the four nominations. Not one to rest on previous achievements, Michaels has just debuted the trailer for his sophomore project, Foreigner’s God set in precolonial times and already a visual beauty
four AMVCA nominations this year -best art director -best movie west africa -best makeup artist movies/tv series -best lighting movies/tv series
Alithnayn Abdulkareem is a writer between Lagos and Abuja. She writes literary fiction and nonfiction covering memoir, art, film, and development issues. She is a 2015 Farafina alumns, and is longlisted for the 2018 Short Story Day Africa prize. She has been published by Transitions, Nataal, Africa Is A Country, The Africa Report, Saraba, Kalahari Review, etc.