Nigeria: Shattering Ceilings in the Millennial Era - the Story of Genevieve and Netflix

Genevieve Nnaji in Lionheart
7 October 2018

Movie lovers have watched her, followed her, earnestly and enthusiastically waiting to find out what she was up to. Fashion lovers felt her absence at the African Magic Viewer's Choice Awards (AMVCA. She was at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Canada promoting the film, gearing it up for the international market.

When the trailer was released, those who cared had watched it on YouTube and thirsted for the entire film. A few weeks ago, Genevieve Nnaji trended on social media and for good cause. In this millennial era of firsts, Nnaji's film Lionheart was announced to have been purchased of American streaming giant- Netflix only hours after it premiered at TIFF.

This film by the screen goddess- which is also her directorial debut since her almost two decades in the movie industry- will be the first original Netflix film to come out of Nigeria.

The film is a modern-day Nigerian drama that tells the story of a young Nigerian woman. Adaeze (Nnaji) who has to step into her father's shoes due to his weak health and run his company in a male-dominated industry. Through topsy-turvy situations and with a little help from her uncle. Godswill (Nkem Owoh- Osofia in London) whom her father hands his seat on the board to she navigates her way through a hostile business system that is not very accommodating to women.

The movie itself is fresh and comes with a new "no-nuisance" approach to feminism in Nigeria and the world which is just what is needed right now amid all the noise.

"I am a proud feminist who embraces her femininity. I feel sometimes women are made to feel self-conscious and ashamed of their womanhood. Perhaps like Wonder Woman we may wake up one day to discover that is our superpower, and then we would be unstoppable," Nnaji had said to Women and Hollywood ( W & H) during an interview in Toronto shortly before it premiered.

To the "Feminist Group of Nigeria," it was more than a mere statement as they cheered on Twitter to their latest official celebrity addition to the fold. It was a formal affirmation to the world that she believes men and women are equal. In a time when loads of Nollywood films have themes that aim at stifling women and women's right to life, Nnaji has picked a side. It has become important that a woman as influential as Nnaji should not be oblivious of her celebrity and the influence thereof and Nnaji words during her interview with W&H is a recognition of that.

At the premiere of her film, she comes prepared looking like Yasammez- a female army commander in Tad Williams novel Shadowmarch- in a smashing red pantsuit; signifying the girl power theme that the movie portrays. Lionheart also features film legends like; Pete Edochie (Things Fall Apart), Onyeka Onwenu (Half of a Yellow Sun) and many other heavyweight actors.

In an interview with CNN's Richard Quest, Nnaji reveals that the movie which was produced by her production company- The Entertainment Network (TEN) was also self-funded by her due to limited movie investors in Nigeria.

"We don't have adequate funding for movies that we intend to go global," she told Quest.

She also adds that she has since "realised that language is the only barrier we have. We can all identify with culture, our stories are very similar." Nnaji has for long believed in the promise that Nollywood holds for everyone with potential. In an interview with OAP Olisa Adibua long before this film in 2014, Nnaji spoke about her belief of bringing a "Hollywood" to Nigeria.

"I am passionate about building a Hollywood here called Nollywood. I am passionate about building a successful industry in Nigeria."

Now, four years later, Nnaji has gone on to bring Netflix to Nigeria with Lionheart.

It should be noted that Genevieve Nnaji's success does not hit us as a surprise. Since after her AMVCA winning film, Road to Yesterday (which is also available for streaming on Netflix), it was only a matter of time for Netflix to take note of the thirty-nine (39) year-old powerhouse of talent.

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