In the wake of the 2016 Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards (check out #AMVCA2016), it seemed only fair that I visit what seems to have become a topic of controversy: Nollywood’s leading ladies.
As a millennial in the diaspora, I can only comment on what I know. The ladies I allude to here are those who have captured my British-born heart.
This is not only because of their acting and directorial prowess but also because of the topics they are choosing to put their talents behind giving a clearer voice to the many issues that the continent faces.
You’ll recognise from one of Nollywood’s highlights of 2015: it is the adventuresome Adesua Etomi. Not only did she snag best actress in a drama on the night, her depiction of Sheila in MTV’s Shuga season four, helped to begin conversations about the changing face of HIV in Nigeria, opening the floor for a deeper look into serodiscordant or ‘magnetic’ relationships – a sexual relationship where one partner is HIV positive and the other negative.
Actor, producer and director Stephanie Okereke Linus brought another one home for #TeamNaija by snagging best-overall movie at the awards show, and it was an award well-deserved for her long-anticipated work Dry.
It focuses on the young and wealthy Nigerians residing on Victoria Island, and drags viewers straight into the horrors of child marriage and the unnecessary deaths caused by Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF).
Such topics are not often approached in Nigerian film or rather do not usually receive such critical acclaim in the English-speaking African movie scene. Yet Linus’ success and her recent distribution deal in the US shows that there is something to be said about the attention being paid to such social issues in popular culture.
When she burst onto our screens in 2008 as Jenifa I don’t think anyone anticipated how funny the crossover between the village and the city could be. Sure it had been done before, but never had this use of traditional Yoruba been so popular on our screens.
Funke Akindele was awarded best actress in a comedy for her reprisal of the role of Jenifa in the spinoff TV show Jenifa’s Diary. Not only did Jenifa explore the superstitions and danger inherent in university life in Nigeria as well as the risks of unprotected sex, Akindele’s ability to captivate the audiences of Yoruba language as well as English language films is a testament to her near limitless acting aptitude.
Having gone home with the award for best movie – West Africa (funny how we get our own category), one can never overlook the legend and leading lady Genevieve Nnaji.
From being one of the only Nigerian-born actors in Biyi Bandele’s film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s Half of a Yellow Sun, to approaching the trauma of rape in her role as Lola in Tango with Me, Genevieve is no stranger to putting herself in roles that challenge viewers to dislike her or mourn for her. Her career began at the age of eight and she continues to surprise viewers with the depths she reaches through the characters she portrays.
In Nigeria, one does not only have to be an actress, director or producer to lead in an industry, and no-one makes this clearer than Omotola Jalade Ekeinde. Having described herself as an ‘actress and activist’, I will not lie this woman is in many ways my #LifeGoal. Since launching her acting career in 1995, she has captured the hearts and minds of the African continent as a whole.
Not only was she named one of TIME Magazine’s most influential people in 2013, she also made a guest appearance in American network VH1’s Hit the Floor alongside Akon. And if being the most watched celebrity in Africa wasn’t enough – to the point of becoming the first Nigerian celebrity with her own reality television show – the woman has a heart of gold. Her philanthropic heart took her to the 2015 World Economic Forum as an advocate for organisation One speaking for the Poverty is Sexist campaign, and through all this she has also managed to raise four children.
Nollyood boasts many talented and socially conscious women, these are but a few who have continually caught my eye, they act but they care and this is something I hope the industry continues to cultivate!