When the curtain rises on Toronto’s City to City program this week, with a spotlight on filmmakers coming out of Lagos, Nigeria, it should come as no surprise that some of the industry’s top female talents will take starring roles.
Along with performances from familiar faces like Rita Dominic, Sola Sobowale, and Ireti Doyle, the program will feature the latest pic from rising star Omoni Oboli (“Okafor’s Law”) and open with “The Wedding Party,” the feature debut for helmer Kemi Adetiba.
For “Wedding Party” e.p. Mo Abudu, the CEO of the upscale entertainment and lifestyle network EbonyLife TV, the week-long spotlight underscores the growing strength of women in the Nigerian film industry, and their ability to both find an audience and inspire it.
“All over the world, women need role models,” she says, adding that “those of us that have a voice need to speak and reach out to [them].”
Four years ago, Abudu launched EbonyLife TV as the latest venture in a career that’s earned her the nickname “Africa’s Oprah.” Last year, the company’s first big-screen production, “Fifty,” premiered at the BFI London Film Festival before being acquired by Netflix.
Along with the network’s growing reach has come greater responsibility, says Abudu. At EbonyLife TV, she estimates that nearly 80% of “key positions” have been filled by women – an attempt on her part to “even things out” in what is still a male-dominated industry.
“We all have a responsibility…to reach out to younger girls and say, ‘How can we help you achieve your dreams?” she says.
For many Nigerian actresses, achieving the dream of on-screen success has paved the way for bigger parts behind the scenes. Household names like Dominic (“76”) and Genevieve Nnaji (appearing in conversation at TIFF this week), who between them have starred in nearly 150 films, have both branched out into producing in recent years. Oboli was an accomplished actress before making her directorial debut in 2014, with “Being Mrs. Elliot.”
Having taken a long hiatus from acting to finish her schooling and start a family, Oboli says she’s learned to juggle the responsibilities that come from being a professional, as well as a wife and mom.
“It’s not unique to my industry,” she says. “The banker, the baker, the woman who sells tomatoes in the market: we all have to…find that balance.”
As for the star turn at TIFF for Oboli and her industry peers, she says, “I feel like we’re ready for the world now.”