Ranking It: 3 most important things about the Mo Abudu and Netflix Partnership

Two years ago, I wrote a piece concerning rumours of Mo Abudu adapting Wole Soyinka’s play, Death and the King’s Horsemen.

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My focus was Nollywood ambition because until then, Ms Abudu’s work had left something to be desired artistically. But then industry rumours reached me and and it seemed that perhaps EbonyLife was on the cusp of something beyond what it had been known for.

It might prove so. Especially with the backing of Netflix, per today’s announcement. We’ll have to watch Netflix to find out. In the meantime, these are the most interesting things the announcement has thrown up.

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3. Wither Cinema?

In the US and Europe, Netflix is still battling for prestige. They want the Oscars; they want screenings and honours at the Big 3 festivals (Cannes, Berlin, and Venice) . To get those endorsements, they have wooed acclaimed directors, Alfonso Cuarón, Martin Scorsese, and Bong Joon-Ho among them; they allowed brief cinema runs. The energies expended have paid off but not yet fully.

That problem is largely absent in Nigeria. For reasons beyond the scope of this piece, our big film (and music) awards have yet to confer greatness on their winners. But there is the small matter of how Ms Abudu’s deal affects Nigerian cinemas and Nigerian cinema culture. Because its a series, the Shoneyin adaptation clearly will end up on the Netflix platform. But there is a question mark on Death and the King’s Horseman. Would it get a run at the cinemas before ending up on Netflix as Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart did? Or would it go straight to Netflix?

As Netflix is fielding production costs, it gets to decide. Still, it is worth wondering if the Mo Abudu and EbonyLife brands have enough pull to request a cinema screening, perhaps for a few days. The cinemas will certainly appreciate it — as will some film lovers with neither the data nor will to get on Netflix.

You have to think that given how much the Covid-19 pandemic has affected their business, a film with the publicity Netflix features attract will help their bottom line very nicely.

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2. Literary Sensibility and Nollywood

If Ms Abudu decides to use a Nollywood / resident Nigerian director, this might prove to be the trickiest part of the deal: the question that would have to be answered is this: which director currently working in Nigeria combines her cinematic sensibility with a literary one? Nigeria doesn’t exactly have a Sam Mendes, a director from stage with great literature in his bones. We might not even have a Quentin Tarantino, a director with the pulp fiction novels in his brain.

Cinema is, of course, a visual medium but the delicacy of the words Shoneyin and Soyinka selected and deployed in building their worlds would have to be appreciated for the Netflix projects to succeed and give Nollywood a respectable place in global filmmaking. I’ll share more thoughts on this in the coming days.

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1. Business

The deal is clearly one borne on business. Mo Abudu has made films that have made money and attracted a large audience of Nigerians. Now with the might of Netflix the world over, there is a chance for even more audiences to see the films.

The deal has the potential to add more value to two sides of the Netflix business model. Mo Abudu, as a brand, might convince the average Nigerian film lover, home and overseas, to take out a Netflix subscription or renew a lapsed subscription.

But the deal might also convince those who have expressed displeasure at the fairly formulaic work produced by Ms Abudu’s EbonyLife Productions in the past. By associating with with two acclaimed literary works, a cloak of respectability covers the productions.

In fact, this is the deal’s masterstroke. The writers get some money and probably more readers; Ms Abudu gets money, heavy social, and artistic capital; and Netflix captures more subscribers, which, in the long term, is more revenue. Win-Win-Win.

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Nigeria’s most acclaimed writer-reviewer. Business: www.criticsandbylines.com.

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