The last time Nigeria’s EbonyLife Studios and its chief, Mo Abudu were in the social media trends, it was not for good reasons. Their most anticipated film, Chief Daddy II, did not live up to the expectation of several film lovers on the continent and across the globe who looked forward to it on New Year’s Day. It started with a few tweets. And then some more. They were trending at number one after a few hours.
It had nothing to do with the production —in fact, Ebony life has some of the best pictures on the continent— but everything to do with the storyline. The first part of the Chief Daddy collection had given it so much competition that perhaps the filmmakers could not beat their own standards. Out of the usual, the eager beaver, creative, and media megastar, Mo Abudu, had to issue a short explainer on Twitter addressing the concerns of her patrons. It was that much of a big deal then.
Five months later, in May 2022, they would be in the trends again. The reasons, completely opposite to what we saw in January. Their new limited series, Blood Sisters, the first Nigerian original TV series on Netflix, has taken over pop culture discussions. Maybe, this new series has washed away the sins of Chief Daddy II and given film lovers a new hope of salvation for African cinema. That salvation is something EbonyLife Studios has hoped to achieve over the years, and clearly, they have been great at it.
With a full appreciation of Nigerian culture, Blood Sisters stars Ini Dima-Okojie (Sarah)and Nancy Isime (Kemi) as best friends whose decision on the day of the former’s wedding to an abusive groom (Deyemi Okanlawon as Kola) will later lead to a thrilling and scandalous journey. Set in Lagos, the real nightmare begins when Kemi finds out Kola beating up Sarah. While attempting to defend her friend, she accidentally kills Kola.
Minutes before the grand wedding, Sarah had had some kind of epiphany about Kola’s abusive tendencies and decided to call off the wedding but had been pressured by her parents who were looking for their business to go ahead with it.
The story, although not extraordinary, is told in a thrilling performance that will make you doubt your guessing abilities. That rich dysfunctional family with so many feuds and secrets that they keep adding on to is nothing you haven’t seen in African films, except this is built differently.
Connecting the bigger global themes of domestic abuse, power, and dysfunctional families are those of friendship and loyalty. Told from an African perspective, issues like domestic abuse and power are global. The World Health Organization estimates that one in every thirty women in the world has been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence. What this series does is that it puts a special focus on friendship and its role in domestic abuse situations. Studies have shown that family and friends can be key to helping end domestic violence.
The beautiful mixture of the Nigerian way of life, especially its fashion, music and language with a perfect ensemble cast give Blood Sisters that desirable element Africans have been looking for in their own productions for a long time. It is not as if this series is the first to spark conversations about selling African culture in African cinema. It does, however, elevate the discussion on quality. The praiseworthiness of this series is nothing short of Shonda Rhimes’ Bridgeton.
The codeswitching of English, Pidgin and Igbo added some amount of authenticity to the series. Language is obviously a big issue in African entertainment and cultural productions that target the global market. Different people have different opinions on how this should work but I think cultural products like this series become the merging point on what language to tell African stories in. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, and Ama Ata Aidoo have struggled over this with divergent opinions. At least, African filmmakers are beginning to demonstrate to us that combining our own language with English on global platforms can still sell Africa.
Take away its few flaws, like the “over-characterization” of Blade (Killers certainly don’t go about with faces like that at a wedding party), some unnecessary scenes, Blood Sisters is scandalously riveting, and flawlessly thrilling.
As for EbonyLife Studios, their role in counter-visualizing Africa’s postcolonial narratives in the third biggest film industry in the world is just as crucial as the works of Kobina Sekyi, Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who from a literary perspective have visualized the continent outside of colonial narratives.