Nigeria’s EbonyLife Is Back in Toronto With Romantic Comedy ‘Royal Hibiscus Hotel’

Romance brings some sizzle and spice to the kitchen of “The Royal Hibiscus Hotel,” Nigerian director Ishaya Bako’s tender romantic comedy, which world premieres at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

The latest venture for EbonyLife, the lifestyle TV network and production company founded by media mogul Mo Abudu, “Royal Hibiscus” is a polished, crowd-pleasing comedy full of easy laughs from an all-star cast drawing on both rising talents and veterans of Nigeria’s Nollywood and Yoruba-language film industries.

Described by Abudu as “an African fairy tale,” pic tells the story of Ope, an aspiring chef in London who returns to Nigeria to rescue her parents’ struggling hotel, where she’s wooed by the wealthy investor looking to buy her father out.

Finding her calling in the hotel’s kitchen, Ope pursues her dream of creating a distinctive fusion cuisine that melds her country’s home-cooking with foreign flavors – a desire that dovetails with Abudu’s own cinematic mission to find a “balance between what Nigerians want, and what can also have international appeal.”

In some ways, director Bako’s sophomore effort mirrors his own journey as a filmmaker. Like Ope, who finds opportunity knocking in Nigeria, the alum of the London Film School returned to Lagos at a time of great optimism, when the economy was booming and many young Nigerians were coming home.

As he witnessed the changes that were ushering in a renaissance in Nigerian music and literature in the 2000s, and as a similar transformation was taking hold in the country’s film industry, Bako reached a decisive moment that would shape his career as a filmmaker, asking himself, “Would you want to be outside looking in? Or would you want to be one of the people that are changing the nature and dynamic of film?”

In Nigeria, young filmmakers have “an opportunity to make your mark in world cinema,” he says, noting that despite the country’s prolific industry, “We are still a very niche market in that space.”

“Royal Hibiscus” marks the second Toronto premiere in as many years for Abudu and EbonyLife, which opened last year’s City to City focus on Lagos with the “The Wedding Party.”

After launching as an upscale lifestyle TV network in 2012, EbonyLife produced its first feature film, “Fifty,” in 2015. This year, “Wedding Party” shattered local B.O. records, grossing around $1.2 million to make it the most successful Nigerian film of all time. Both films have been acquired by Netflix.

Abudu says the streamer has been a “great partner” for EbonyLife, allowing it to take its slate of uplifting African stories into households around the world.

She’s currently looking for potential co-production partners for EbonyLife’s first foray into the international market, “Ava & Duante,” a World War II-era drama about the persecution of black Germans under the Nazi regime — a largely untold tale known as the “Black Holocaust.”

“It’s a much bigger journey for us, because it’s a much bigger story,” says Abudu, who hopes to begin lensing later this year.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Gareth Jones

    Samuel Goldwyn Films Takes North American Rights to Berlin Competition Title 'Mr Jones'

    Samuel Goldwyn Films has taken North American rights on Agnieska Holland’s “Mr. Jones,” it announced Thursday. The period thriller debuted in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Set on the eve of the Second World War, “Mr. Jones” stars James Norton as the eponymous character, an ambitious young journalist who travels to Moscow [...]

  • Live Action Mulan

    China Uses Disney's 'Mulan' to Attack Hong Kong Protests

    Although Twitter and Facebook have taken steps to stop what they say is a Chinese state-backed misinformation campaign about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, similar content from suspicious accounts continues to proliferate widely, some of it co-opting Disney‘s new “Mulan“ to try to discredit the demonstrators. At the same time, China‘s government-controlled media are [...]


    San Sebastian Adds Alice Winocour, Malgorzata Szumowska, Sarah Gavron to Main Comp

    The Darren Aronofsky-produced Brazilian title “Pacified,” by American director Paxton Winters, Alice Winocour’s French-German astronaut drama “Proxima” and Polish film director Małgorzata Szumowska’s religious thriller “The Other Lamb” are among the six final competition selections for September’s 67th San Sebastian Film Festival. Also vying for San Sebastian’s Golden Shell will be U.K. drama “Rocks,” from [...]

  • Jamile Wenske

    Jamila Wenske Leaves One Two Films to Head Achtung Panda! in Berlin

    German producer Jamila Wenske has left One Two Films to head Achtung Panda!, a Berlin-based film production company. Wenske succeeds former managing director Helge Albers, who left Achtung Panda! to become the new CEO of regional funder Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein. Wenske partnered with Sol Bondy and Christoph Lange to launch One Two Films in 2010. [...]

  • Tuva-Novotny

    Tuva Novotny Questions Monogamy in 'Diorama' Pic (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Actress-turned-helmer Tuva Novotny thrives on big challenges. Her feature debut “Blindspot,” Norway’s entry for the 2019 Nordic Council Prize, was shot in real-time in one take and illuminates mental health issues. Her sophomore mainstream Swedish pic “Britt Marie Was Here” –slated for a Sept. 20 U.S. release via Cohen Media Group –  [...]

  • Seizure

    Writer Megan Gallagher On Her Viaplay Supernatural Nordic-Noir 'Seizure'

    With outposts in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, Miso Film has become one of the most influential film and TV outfits in Scandinavia. On August 19, the company’s Norwegian arm lifted the curtain on its series venture, the supernatural police drama “Seizure” by premiering the show’s first two episodes at the Haugesund Film Festival ahead of [...]

  • Thoma-Robsahm

    World Partners Board “a-ha The Movie” as Helmer Tells It All (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Pitched at Haugesund’s New Nordic Films confab, Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm’s doc “a-ha -The Movie” won’t hit screens before November 2020, but an array of new production and distribution partners have already boarded the project. Clementina Hegewisch of Neue Impuls and Matthias Greving of Kinescope Film in Germany are now co-producing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content