By Justin Akpovi-Esade

There is a popular African adage that says someone may pretend to enjoy a meal served him simply because of who prepared it, not because it was delicious. 

The film, A Tribe Called Judah, fits into the above scenario, perfectly.

When the news of the blockbuster A Tribe Called Judah broke in December of last year, the whole country was excited especially as cinema houses trembled and threatened to burst at the seams. This excitement made people like us very eager to see it.

The icing on the cake was the congratulatory message from the president of the country, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale. “The President extols the excellence of the Nigerian creative industry, acknowledging its pivotal place as a medium not only for artistic expression but also a source of enormous soft power and viable export.

“The creative industry is one of the high-employment sectors, providing jobs for our able and talented youths. It is an industry that is crucial to my administration. I salute Nigerians for their enduring support and patronage of home-grown creative efforts. We will provide the conducive environment for the industry to thrive further,” excerpts from president Tinubu’s message to the producer of the film read.

Guess Tinubu’s commendation came because A Tribe Called Judah was reported to have broke the box office record of being the highest grossing Nigerian film, raking in $1.1 million dollars (approximately 1 billion naira) in some few weeks of its cinema run. According to experts, no Nigerian film has recorded that kind of commercial success since the resurgence of the film and video culture in Nigeria. Without prejudice, one must congratulate Ms Funke Akindele, she has not only been a fantastic actor, she has become a daring producer since the production bug bit her.

After seeing A Tribe Called Judah, twice, one is tempted to ask; how did this movie become the title holder of the highest grossing Nigerian film? To answer this question, you need to go back to the very first paragraph which spoke about eating a meal and pretending it was delicious just because of the cook. And please, before labelling the writer as a ‘hater’,  ‘ethnic bigot’, ‘loser’ or ‘hatchet man’ (those are the commonly used words to describe people this generation does not agree with), go and watch the movie again after reading this piece.

A Tribe Called Judah is about Jedidah Judah(Funke Akindele), a single mother of five young men. The intriguing part is, she had the five children for different men from all the geopolitical regions of the country. Emeka (South East), Shina ‘Shinene’ (South West), Adamu (North) and Pere and Ejiro (South South). The reason for the script to have these children from the three geopolitical regions may be deeper than what was seen on the surface. The movie however, did not explore that angle, it just told us a normal Nollywood story of Jedidah’s life struggles to make ends meet, how the first and second sons, Emeka and Adamu were security guards at a shopping mall close by. Pere, a street hustler and pickpocket while Shina is a tout who also feeds from the street and the last kid, Ejiro, a street wise budding artist.

Yes, there was an incident when their mother, Jedidah was being manhandled by an irresponsible man, and Ejiro who was with her, had to call his four older brothers who came to beat the living daylight out of the man. A scene also established Pere as a pickpocket while another revealed how he was almost lynched by an angry mob. But for the timely intervention of Jedidah and her friend played by Fathia Balogun, Pere would have been burnt alive.

Viewers were enlightened by Jedidah on how she came about having five kids for five different men. There are people in real life who either match that record or even surpassed it, so, there is nothing really special about that anyway.

And then, Jedidah fainted and was diagnosed with a kidney or liver related ailment which required a huge sum of money for treatment and transplant. This brings us to the theme of the movie. And then the kids had to plan a heist to raise money. The victim of the heist happens to be Emeka’s former boss who uses a furniture company, C&K Furniture’s as front for his money laundering operation. A Tribe Called Judah made us to understand it is okay to steal from a supposed criminal because that should be the justification for that otherwise simple heist (Smash and Grab) which turned into an armed robbery where lives were lost eventually. Emeka, the first child of Jedidah was shot to death in the robbery gone bad. Collette’s gang lost two members also.

Well, Jedidah’s children stole the dollars stuffed in Furniture’s in the VVIP room of C&K Furniture’s, and with the help of Itele and his boys, all allies of Shinene, they were able to get away from the owner of the money and CEO of C&K Furniture’s, Chigozie Onuoha who is also the underworld kingpin of the money laundering operation and the police.

In summary, that was the story of A Tribe Called Judah, the highest grossing Nigerian film. One forgot to add that there is a suggestion that there would be a part two of the movie as the closing scene revealed a two million reward by the police for information leading to the arrest of Jedidah’s sons suspected to be masterminds of the robbery operation.

A Tribe Called Judah is not different from an average Nollywood movie, I mean the ones shot in some couple of days and released in the market. One may argue that the equipment used in the production of this ‘Awaiting Multiple Awards’ winning film by Funke Akindele may be of higher quality, but in terms of storyline, locations and scripting, there is not much that differentiates it from an every day home video. So, again, one asks, how did it become the record holder for the highest grossing Nigerian film? Any need to refer you to the first paragraph for the answer?

Until the part two of A Tribe Called Judah is released where we may see the police apprehend Jedidah’s surviving kids and charge them for armed robbery, one can temporarily say the movie in a subtle manner tried to justify crime. If one’s mother is ill, it is okay for the kids to come together and plan a heist especially if the victim is also a criminal. While one is not expecting much from a possible part two, which won’t be different in terms of fleeting emotions, until that happens, A Tribe Called Judah is what it is-an average Nollywood home video.

A careful look at some of the characters revealed nothing spectacular. Nse Ikpe-Etim, perhaps after her performance as the ‘Mama'(head of prostitutes) in Shanty Town, was picked for the role of Collete, secretary to Chigozie Onuoha, CEO of C&K Furniture’s as well as kingpin of the underworld. Her dark past was made known to us when she told of how she was part of a criminal organisation specialising in armed robbery. This was something similar to what she was at Shanty Town. One won’t be surprised to see her in another movie playing a similar role. Na so stereotype dey take start for Nollywood.

Ebere Okaro, the Nollywood home video veteran was conscripted into A Tribe Called Judah to rehash her familiar roles of a dotting, nagging mother, grandmother and wife, basically, that is what Ebere Okaro does 99.9 per cent in Nollywood movies with her trademark fast blinking of eyes among other nuances. Okaro over time had etched her name in the stereotype Hall of Fame in Nollywood. She plays the same character in almost every Nollywood movie you see and she was in her element in A Tribe Called Judah as the mother of Jedidah and grandmother of the Jedidah Five. 

Olumide Oworu who played Ejiro, the last child of Jedidah, simply replayed his ‘Tari Johnson’ role in The Johnsons. So, go and watch any of the episodes of that TV comedy series and you may agree. Only the lines were different.

As for Itele,(Ibrahim Yekini), he simply brought to A Tribe Called Judah’s table his ‘area boy’ character in Yoruba movies. Ironically, he bore the same character name (Itele) in Funke Akindele’s film and just as he is always the king of ‘area boys'(touts) in Yoruba movies, he was also the leader of Shinene’s gang in A Tribe Called Judah. If you have seen this Yoruba movie, Jaguda Baba Ole among many others like it, you will agree that Itele without passing a casting audition had the role waiting for him.

And should we talk about Funke Akindele’s Jedidah role? Is it not similar to her Jenifa’s character? Does it mean our dear Funke cannot drop the Jenifa garb at all even if the roles/circumstances are different? 

Nosa Rex and his mall security guard colleague, Pluto even though their roles were short, did a great job of it. Rex, a top Nollywood star showed he could make something out of nothing within a short time.

One major shortcoming of the movie which points further to it’s Nollywood home video standard was when the Jedidah Five were planning the heist. The viewer was made to know all the details of the robbery even before it took place. That took away the element of surprise and suspense. We already knew there was going to be a costume party at the mall and they were all going to be dressed in various costumes and when the party was winding down, they would slip into C&K Furniture’s and rob it. Wetin remain? Won’t it have been better if before Shinene revealed the plan up to the Costume part, the scene cuts to the party and the viewer would be wondering what was about to happen? That was a major low point of the movie and only typical Nollywood home videos do that. 

But then, A Tribe Called Judah is the highest grossing Nigerian film…

Some questions only Funke Akindele can answer; was the movie set in Nigeria? If yes, would she call that funny uniform the supposed policemen wore as uniform of the Nigeria Police Force? If the movie was made to look like it was not set in Nigeria, are Ejiro, Pere, Adamu, Shina and Emeka names of people in the Gotham city the idea came from? What kind of mall security guards wear the uniform of Nigeria traffic police popularly called ‘Yellow Fever’? And by the way, what kind of Nigeria anti crime unit is known as ‘Financial Crimes Task Force’?

Drama is an imitation of life, if we are in Nigeria, one needs to see a policeman dressed in a proper Nigeria police uniform arresting a suspect for an alleged crime in a movie. We need to see the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC operatives in their red jacket taking down a suspect, in a movie, not some fictitious Financial Crimes Task Force with their uniform like LASTMA officials. An American filmmaker does not hesitate to use the FBI, CIA, DEA, NYPD as they are, in his movies. Ms Akindele is too big a movie star to be giving us some fictitious names of government security organisations in movies as if it was a television drama in 1982. 

By the way, why was Adamu, Shinene (Shina) and Emeka, three of the sons of Jedidah she had for an Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo fathers respectively characterised to speak their fathers’ languages at a point in the movie yet Pere and Ejiro did not speak either Urhobo and or Ijaw at any point if the idea was to establish the ethnicity of each of the children? Just asking.

On a lighter note, why did Funke Akindele cast someone with a mother tongue interference as the arresting officer who led the team that arrested criminal kingpin Chigozie Onuoha in the last scene of A Tribe Called Judah? What some of us heard was; ‘You are ‘hunder’ arrest?”. For an actor in that kind of movie to pronounce UNDER as ‘Hunder’ exposed the handicap of the Director. A serious Director should have made him do so many takes till he got it right and if he failed to, change the character. But then, that is if the Director knew the difference.

Akpovi-Esade is a journalist, newspaper columnist, Film/Art critic and Media Lobbyist 

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